'5 Years Time' broke ground in ways Noah and the Whale could in no way have imagined. It became a routine, summer-time sing-along for children, mums, and fans of Laura Marling. One year on, it's allowed the band to un-cage the thoughts in their heads. That's the beauty of the single: regardless of poor sales, dying formats and the loss of meaning in the top 40, one hit can pave way for new beginnings. However surely nobody in their right mind expected Charlie Fink to shelve the idea of writing another sure-fire, arm-in-arm, triumphant but slightly annoying pop song. He has instead, gone with his heart. 'The First Days of Spring' is anything but a half-arsed collection of songs. It's a complete cinematic experience, sonically engaging, placing clear, enigmatic pictures in your head.
At first glance, this album details re-birth and growth, all things Spring. Quite predictable, then. However delve into the lyrics and you discover that "Spring" is merely a metaphorical tool, used to enhance some deeply personal feelings. Fink covers the loss of a flame (a relationship) and the attempt to re-kindle it. At times, words and meanings speak nothing but triumph: "Like a cut down tree, I will rise again. And I'll be bigger and stronger..." But amongst this theme of determination is meaningless sex, boredom, lonliness and the un-rivalled sense of loss, complete emptiness. For as much as Spring can symbolise a new start, it can also be the most miserable of seasons emotionally. And whilst this record offers hope, its finest moments are admittances of defeat. The most poignant of these comes in 'My Broken Heart', with Fink concluding "I'll be lonely..." over and over again. Defeat is often met with replenished hope: particularly in said song, with "lonely" being cleverly replaced with the verb "laughing" in the second verse.
'My Broken Heart' concludes four opening tracks of complete perfection. The tracklisting seems to segment the album into three distinct parts. Tracks 1-4 are followed by the centrepiece, 'Love of An Orchestra'; a driven, uplifting piece, like nothing the band has done before, surrounded by two, short instrumental parts. And keeping to this theme of symmetry, the middle segment is followed by another four tracks. The title-track is nothing short of sounding as beautiful as Sigur Ros, only without the language barrier. String sections are powerful and busy whilst Fink's deep tones remain sturdy and firm. 'Our Window' is a disjointed ballad, detailing two lovers staring for hours at the stars. 'I Have Nothing' is warmer and more concise, centred around a melody suspiciously like that in Bon Iver's 'Creature Fear' but on par with the quality displayed around it. This opening section is outstanding. And the closing four tracks, held upright by the anthemic 'Blue Skies', can only be regarded as a disappointment in comparison. But let's be clear: only in comparison.
For an album with such a slow tempo, 'The First Days of Spring' quite remarkably, remains fascinating throughout. No-one in their right mind could have expected anything as grand, ambitious and most importantly, accomplished as this record. It's taken immense time, effort, and all that money raised from the success of the debut album, to achieve this near faultless tour-de-force. Nonetheless, it's still one hell of a surprise.