Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering Mike Gentry
We can't be certain if the members of English band Noah & The Whale knew it at the time that they were here in our studio in Rock Island and then again it could have been the primary reason that they were here in the first place. It could have been like heading to Graceland or the Apollo for those digging on Elvis or James Brown respectively. Okay, that's overstating all of this. The build-ups a bit fantastical, but were they to have known who'd been there previous to them by a few months, it certainly would have come up in conversation while they ate their dinners - big and hearty plates of barbequed baby back pork ribs from the joint down the street, whose smokehouse fragrances the entire neighborhood like a summertime grill out 12 months out of the year.
They left us behind a stack of take-out, Styrofoam food containers - full of picked clean rib bones and the straggling bits of coleslaw - when they moved on down the road but no mention of awe about Jeff Daniels, who played Bernard Berkman in the 2005 Noah Baumbach film "The Squid and the Whale." The famous actor had been at the studio during the summer, recording four of his original pieces, and had sat right in the same spot that Noah & the Whale lead singer Charlie Fink stood as the group - which was named after the title and writer of that Daniels picture featuring a struggling writer and his disintegrating family - laid its songs to tape. The band surely would have appreciated the information. For a group that has made a blatant regard for their admiration of this very depressing and well done film - basically lofting at it kissing signs and air hugs and goo goo eyes - the music that the band put on its debut Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down is everything that isn't unfolding demolition of something sacred and the dark side of love, when all of the walls crash down upon those standing set in the room and it's finally obvious that love (the choice, not the chore) is only something enjoyed by other people.
A song without a small portion of that converse action, of the good times floating away into oblivion, is one of negligence and bias, not one of honesty and realism. It's something that Fink and this young band are very aware of, but damn if there isn't some really uplifting garnish to many of the scenes that the band directs with its rustic pieces of glimmering folk-pop. There are flashes of recognizable sentiments that one hears in the Swedish band Shout Out Louds, but Fink takes the less woeful high road than does Adam Olenius. It's more about finding that sparkling silver lining - or at least what's left of a silver lining, and that could be just enough to fit in your hand - than wallowing within the compost or rubble. Everywhere you turn, there's a reason not to give in to the depressing pains that love and its supporting cast of activities (life and that pursuit of happiness, three of the stickiest fucking measures to ever have go appropriately) seem to insist upon at every turn in the road.
Fink sings, softly and confidently, "The world can be kind in its own way," and it leaves all of that so open-ended that maybe it's not even there at all. He and the rest of Noah must choose to find the joys in things like distances, challenges, and in little things like a sensational barbeque sauce and a warm hand to hold even if the rest of the body is shivering. It's not a depressing plan that they're following, but one that believes in hearts growing two sizes in a day and revamping its entire philosophy. There is hope in every new seed, says Fink, and who are we to complain or argue.