Welcome to a new series, Albums of All Time, where we talk about albums that we revere because they remind us of a really specific time of our lives. Reminisce with us as we dive into albums that tell you exactly who we are.
Life presents a lot of firsts – First steps, first kiss, first day at a new job. These firsts signal new seasons of life, and with these seasons comes a sense of renewal and anticipation of inevitable yet beautiful change. Perhaps the most literal representation of this progression is the first day of Spring. Enter Noah and the Whale, the band that made me fall in love with music.
The first time I listened to The First Days Of Spring in its entirety, it went straight over 15-year-old-me’s head. Soaring orchestral interludes intermixed with heartbreaking acoustic soliloquies were admittedly overwhelming for a teenage girl who couldn’t even legally drive. But upon further listening, I began to appreciate the album’s complexity to the point where it completely overwhelmed me in a way no album had before and no album has since.
The First Days Of Spring is the second studio album released by the 5-piece indie rock band from Twickenham, England and was accompanied by a film directed by the band’s lead vocalist, Charlie Fink*. At its core, the album chronicles Fink’s devastating breakup with indie sweetheart Laura Marling. Heartbreak is imminent but so is hope, and that juxtaposition is what makes this album so painfully human.
*I’d like to take a brief intermission here to explain just how obsessed I was with Charlie Fink from the ages of 14-17. In my eyes, he was the blueprint for men; the end-all-be-all of crushes. The dark floppy hair, the beautiful baby blue eyes, the fact that he was BRITISH *swoon*, he was the perfect specimen. Bear in mind, this was the era of One Direction, so for me to be completely infatuated with some random 24-year-old guy from a random band no one’s heard of is admittedly funny to reflect on. Now back to the point of this post.
The title track’s opening lyric, “It’s the first day of Spring, and my life is starting over again”, speaks to both the promise of a new season and the looming uncertainty of a life uprooted by circumstance. At 6 minutes and 39 seconds, “The First Days Of Spring” is the album’s longest track and weaves seamlessly between beautiful melody and an orchestral section featuring a piercing violin solo that leaves me holding back tears every time.
The next track, “Our Window”, introduces a more somber tone but, like the album itself, ultimately concludes with notes of cautious optimism. “I Have Nothing” is a song as bleak as the name itself, but it’s heartbreakingly moving nonetheless. I usually end up skipping this one because it’s just too sad to listen to. I didn’t ask to be hurt like this on my way to Target at 2pm on a Tuesday. This is a song for anyone who needs a good cry. On “My Broken Heart”, Fink laments “I’m impenetrable to pain” over a slightly more upbeat albeit melancholy electric guitar riff. This one hurts slightly less, so I can let it play all the way through without being sent into an existential crisis.
As if to symbolize the grieving process and how abruptly our feelings and perspective can shift from one day to the next (or if you’re like me and you have *chronic anxiety*, from one HOUR to the next), The First Days Of Spring transitions into a classical section – a stark contrast to the rest of the album that in some way still manages to feel like a natural progression. Joe, this one’s for you.
“Instrumental I” and “Instrumental II” serve as poignant interludes interspliced by “Love Of An Orchestra”, a track accompanied by a choir so radiant that for a moment we forget we are meant to be lamenting. It conjures the familiar feeling of a moment or experience that temporarily relieves us of our sadness as we get lost in joy, even if it’s just for 2 minutes and 2 seconds. But all too soon, “Stranger” slaps us back to reality, and we’re immersed once again in Fink’s torment. This song is NSFW but, wouldn’t you know it, it was one of the first songs I taught myself how to play on guitar during the year or so where I tried to learn guitar. I wanted to be the peasant-skirt-and-Oxfords-wearing indie girl of Charlie Fink’s dreams, okay?
In the final section of the album, you can almost feel yourself emerging from the deep void that is grief, with three tracks that truly feel like Spring and the both metaphorical and literal breath of fresh air the season brings. “Blue Skies” is my favorite track on the album, and it brought high school Eden hope during countless late nights studying for AP exams. Was this Fink’s intention? Probably not. But it absolutely promised a light at the end of the tunnel amidst the crushing weight of public high school. Fink sings “This is a song for anyone with a broken heart”, in hopes that someone, somewhere can find solace in his pain. It’s as if every track on the album is a prescription of sorts for the ailments that accompany every step of the grieving process.
On “Slow Glass”, we see Fink reflecting on Marling and his breakup and the revelations that followed suit. This is a song for anyone who needs to remember that it’s not all bad. The final track, “My Door Is Always Open”, ironically closes out the album but leaves space for possibility. It’s a powerful reminder that some things will never be completely finished, but maybe it’s better that way. The circumstances that feel like they’re ending our lives might ultimately be what bring us life anew. How “coming of age indie film” is that?
So, broken heart or not, I urge you to listen to the album in order in its entirety. Pain, comfort, fear, and sadness all in a perfectly tumultuous and career-defining piece: The First Days Of Spring. This is an album for anyone.