Noah and the whale, Cabaret Voltaire
Tuesday 19 August 2008
Named after the film The Squid and the Whale and its director Noah Baumbach, this London outfit clearly fancy themselves as the kings (and queen) of quirk. Dressed in naff shirt-and-waistcoat combinations, the band revel in their preppy geek-chic.
There is a degree of affectation, then, in the way lead singer Charlie Fink speaks in an eminently proper English accent but sings with a hint of a cultured American twang. Yet his band isn't a vehicle for his outsider affectations so much as an excuse to sing sweet little love songs, so it's easy to overlook such foibles.
Until recently a home for Mercury Prize-nominated singer and ex of Fink's Laura Marling, whose decision to go solo surely won't have been a cause for too much personal regret, Noah and the Whale adopt a similar folk-pop style. Much like Belle and Sebastian, the quartet – and added horn section – live up to that "school orchestra" comparison that the Glasgow group used to hear all the time.
Otherwise simple platitudes are delivered with a certain folksy resonance, as in Fink's urging in a kind of John Wayne drawl to "let your love shine through" during "Beating" and sugary pondering as to "when will your hand find itself in mine?" throughout "Second Lover". There's a bittersweet tinge to his bright and youthful optimism, though – "there's no need to play with my heart" rings out as one of the key lines of "Rocks and Daggers" – and the feeling is that Fink writes from the perspective of the foiled romantic as much as that of the wide-eyed one.
"Five Years' Time" is the neat moment of pop proficiency that has brought the band very recently to national attention, and certain other songs have a similar gentle catchiness. "Rocks and Daggers" itself and the sublime encore "2 Bodies 1 Heart" are among the highlights of the show, although the latter did result in a moment of slight, inadvertent annoyance.
In a small, hot and packed-tight venue, Fink's polite insistence on informing us that there would only be "two more songs", "one more song" and that "that was our last song" belaboured the inevitable. When the band strolled back out with the grand announcement that "we're going to do another song", there were murmurs around the fringes that perhaps he should just get on and play the thing.
Outside in the night air, however, cooler customers might reflect that this band seem to move reassuringly in their own way and at their own pace, much like that whale in the title. A career spent as the favoured band of common-room romantics seems assured for the foreseeable future.
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