Record label: Cooking Vinyl
Release date: 13th April
Having firmly established themselves within the British music scene, this week Stornoway have released their third album, Bonxie. Over the past few years, the quartet have become one of Oxford’s biggest exports, with a wide following not just in this country but around the world. Crowdsourcing their newest album, the amount raised is a testament to the popularity of the band, and Bonxie is perhaps their most anticipated album yet.
As their sophomore album, Tales From Terra Firma, marked a clear progression from their debut, Bonxie also shows a new direction for the band. For the first time, they’ve completed the album with the help of a producer, Gil Norton, who has worked with the Pixies and Foo Fighters in the past. Where on the second album, each song seemed a ballad, with many clocking nearly five minutes in length, album number three takes a step back, returning to a more traditional Stornoway sound; however, there is a fresh take to the music showing the development of their style.
The theme of nature takes on an even larger importance in Bonxie than in its predecessors; the album title takes its name from a large Hebridean seabird. Leadsinger Brian Briggs’ previous work as an ornithologist plays a significant role within the album, for the band not only create music with their extensive array of instruments, but the songs of over 20 species of birds are also entwined with the music on the album.
Between the Salt Marsh and the Sea opens with a foghorn effect, part of the mysticism of Stornoway’s music. It’s a haunting tune, but perhaps is a slow start to the album. However, second track ‘Get Low’, is vibrant showcasing the best of Stornoway with harmonious vocals, intricate instrumentation and catchy choruses; the band at its best.
Man On Wire is the standout track of the album. Inspired by the eponymous documentary film about a man walking on a wire between the Twin Towers, the song has an epic, expansive sound which does justice to the subject matter. Briggs sings, “When the morning mist lifts away you’ll see me reaching for invisible thread. For a momentary burning dream I’ll be remembered.” Lyrically, it’s perfect, with poetic metaphors and dreamy images.
After the frenetic energy of Man on Wire, The Road You Didn’t Take, provides a refreshing juxtaposition. From the bustle of New York City to a more personal single road, the band move from a worldview to a more introspective look at man in relation to nature. The song has images of a journey through the wilderness, with references to summits, mountains and waves. The album takes a more whimsical turn with ‘Lost Youth’, whilst Sing With Our Senses offers the best of Briggs’ soaring vocals. Starting with a simple and gentle melody, the song crescendos throughout building up to a rousing, spine-tingling finish.
Part of Stornoway’s appeal lies in the band’s range of genres, with the anthematic ‘When When You’re Feeling Gentle’ greatly contrasting to the lullaby feel of We Were Giants, with Briggs singing, “tell me of the time there were deep dark lakes in the scree torn valleys” adding to the romanticism of the album of the whole.
The Heart of The Great Alone has a dramatic, marching quality, contrasting with the dulcet tones of ‘Josephine’ that follows. For those who have seen the band play live over the past year, the unplugged acoustic version of ‘Josephine’ has been a highlight; the studio recording retains the stunning rawness and sheer emotion that the band convey in a live setting through their flawless vocal harmonies. Love Song of the Beta Male is a triumphant closing to the album, with exhilarating trumpets and bells. However there in an extra treat right at the end of the album as it closes with a minute of birdsong, providing a moment of peaceful reflection. The vibrant mix of Stornoway’s music is encompassed here, catering for all moods as they move from fast-paced upbeat music, to the tranquillity of nature.
The interweaving of instruments, vocal harmonies and melodic quirks make it a delightful album, each listening unearthing more musical pleasures in the rich tapestry of sounds. With another wonderful album added to their already exceptional repertoire, the Oxford quartet prove that with Bonxie they’re soaring high.