Hometown: London, U.K.
Band Members: Charlie Fink (vocals, guitar), Doug Fink (drums), Urby Whale (bass) Tom Hobden (fiddle)
Album: The First Days of Spring
For Fans Of: Belle & Sebastian, Bon Iver, The Dodos
The coping begins in procession, with booming tympani drums setting the pace for a slow, drudging march as a lone horn sounds. This is a eulogy, of sorts, for Noah and the Whale lead singer Charlie Fink’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend Laura Marling, whose back-up vocals uplifted Fink’s wistful lyrics of unrequited love on his band’s 2008 debut. And so this song—the title track of Noah and the Whale’s sophomore release, The First Days of Spring—is not just an introduction to the album, the band’s most ambitious work yet. It’s the sound of Fink moving on with his life, with the emotional weight of a full orchestra pushing him forward. “It’s the first day of spring,” he sings, “and my life is starting over again.”
The title of the record references the sentiment of a line from “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead ground, mixing memory and desire.” Its release marks not just the unleashing of one of the best breakup albums of the year, but also Fink’s debut as a filmmaker: Along with the album, the band produced a “feature-length music video” also called The First Days of Spring. Following the album’s recording and mixing in January and February 2009, Fink transferred the story of his own lost love to a character named Ethan, the film’s protagonist, and his progression through love, domestication and beyond.
As Michel Gondry does in one of Fink’s all-time favorite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the musician-turned-director uses color to tie together memories and grapple with physical and intellectual aging. But Fink also aspired to channel his inner Paul Thomas Anderson. “Where the music and images come very close, I think There Will Be Blood is a good example of that,” he says, referencing the filmmaker’s 2007 masterpiece. “There are times when the soundtrack completely takes over.”
Now, just eight months after he first conceptualized the cinematic half of The First Days of Spring, Fink is already anxious to tackle other film projects. For now, though, the band is on tour, ending many of their shows with the same song that kicks off the album’s journey. Its last words are, “And I’m still hoping that one day you’ll come back,” though the song’s true conclusion is a build-up of fluttering violins, steady bass melodies and that tympani, a minute and a half of glorious instrumentation that rises to a clamor of flutes and strings. It is Fink’s favorite part of the album. “It’s about finding comfort in the songs, comfort in the music, or whatever else,” he says. “At the very worst, it’s what I got. It’s amazing.”
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