#4 on the 2009 Musical Advent Calendar
The First Days of Spring by Noah and The Whale
Once again, an album by a band with a ridiculous name. But at least this time around the name has a reason: the band are huge fans of the Noah Baumbach-directed movie “The Squid and The Whale.” End of story.
The sophomore album from Noah and The Whale, The First Days of Spring is a complete departure from the band’s debut, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down. Late in 2008, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Charlie Fink, broke up with the band’s backup vocalist, Laura Marling, and now she’s a backup singer for someone else. What was a band that made superb but fluffy and vacuous pop music became a band that made heartbreaking rainy-day orchestral folk songs. And what a lovely thing it is.
This album, ranked this high on my 2009 Advent Calendar, probably has all my music-loving friends scratching their heads quizzically. I haven’t seen this album show up on any of the big-name top-whatever countdown lists. When I went to pick out my Top 5 for the KEXP end-of-year voting, I had to put this album in the write-in column because they hadn’t included it among the hundreds of pre-listed albums. Pitchfork only gave it a 5.2. All of which adds up to a Poorly Received Album. But yet here it is, #4 on my list for 2009. And it’s there for a reason: it’s brilliant (duh).
At first it’s slow, depressing and very very heavy. “It’s the first day of Spring, and my life is starting over again,” comes the first line in Fink’s deep, drawn-out tone. Where’s that whiskey bottle again? All my life I’ve been drawn to music like this — songs that reflect a sadness so penetrating that it somehow bolsters your own spirit. See the Smiths, circa 1985. Elliott Smith, circa 1998. The Cure, circa 1989.
I listened to Disintegration, the Cure’s graduate-level study of wallowing in one’s own deepest sorrows, ad infinitum — first as a misunderstood senior in high school and then as a misguided Freshman in college (and I still reach for it at least once every six months, neither misunderstood nor misguided). But while I went through my share of teenage depression, I don’t need to feel depressed to enjoy depressing music. On the contrary, even though it’s one of the most depressing (and a little depressingly clichéd) albums I’ve ever owned, The First Days of Spring makes me quite happy upon each and every listen. Call me a blasphemer all you want, but this album is Disintegration, twenty years later.
The album has an arc that is unmatched in most of today’s music. It starts off slow, reaches amazing highs, slips back down and finally rises again to hover somewhere around the sunny side of “completely unable to get out of bed.” “Blue Skies,” the song featured in the video above (which also duals as the trailer for the full-album-video that Fink made in tandem with the album — watch it here) comes toward the end of the album, after your heart has been drug through the mud for a few thousand miles and stomped on by very heavy, very hairy and very naked troglodyte.
The fact that this album has not been well-received by the critics I elevate to such unworthy heights causes my insecurities to rise up. I begin to question my own tastes in music, wondering what it is that I’m missing that is causing me to rate the music so differently from them. But for this album — nay, this masterpiece, — I have been able to successfully squash that little voice in my head, forcing it back into the dark cave it so deserves as a home. It’s not me that is missing something, my tastes are refined enough to recognize a good album when I hear it. The primal feelings this album draws out of me, a state of mind so wrought with passion and emotion, needs to be shared across the globe.
Tomorrow: the #3 album, to which you’ll be surprised I’ve only given the bronze medal.
5. These Four Walls by We Were Promised Jetpacks
6. Hometowns by the Rural Alberta Advantage
7. Velvet Underground & Nico: “Record Club” by Beck
8. March of the Zapotec/Holland by Beirut
9. There is no Enemy by Built to Spill
10. Dark Was The Night, a Red Hot Compilation
11. The Mountain by the Heartless Bastards
12. Creaturesque by Throw Me The Statue
13. Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band by Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
14. Horehound by The Dead Weather
15. Promenade by Grand Hallway
16. Grand by Matt & Kim
17. Blood Bank EP by Bon Iver
18. Fever Ray by Fever Ray
19. Tell ’Em What Your Name Is by Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
20. Mo Beauty by Alec Ounsworth
21. Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants
22. Noble Beast by Andrew Bird
23. Hungry Bird by Clem Snide
24. Actor by St. Vincent
25. Elvis Perkins in Dearland by Elvis Perkins in Dearland
26. XX by the XX
27. Grrr… by Bishop Allen
28. Keep It Hid by Dan Auerbach
29. It’s Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
30. Beware by Bonnie “Prince” Billie
31. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear