Noah and the Whale's second album finds frontman Charlie Fink ruminating over his failed relationship with Laura Marling, a fellow songwriter (and former love interest) who played a key role in the band's debut. With music serving as his therapy, Fink fills The First Days of Spring with lush soundscapes and folksy melancholy, finding the beauty that exists in the neutral territory between both camps. This is a cinematic album, one that's meant to be heard in conjunction with its accompanying film (also titled The First Days of Spring, available as part of the album's deluxe edition), and the track list unfolds in appropriate blockbuster fashion. Several tracks set the scene, others advance the plot, and two instrumental pieces serve as gorgeous transition pieces. Laura Marling is nowhere to be found, of course -- her split with Fink has essentially turned Noah and the Whale into an all-male group -- yet her influence permeates the album, from Fink's disillusioned lyrics to the band's vacillations between elated anthems and intimate, disconsolate ballads. Heartbreak can tear a songwriter to shreds, but it serves the opposite purpose here, lending a sense of vulnerability to Fink's baritone and adding some much-needed drama to the band's music, which previously concerned itself with twee-styled progressions and summery melodies. Noah and the Whale has officially grown up.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey