December 22 — “Rocks and Daggers” by Noah and The Whale

Noah and the Whale

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Rocks and Daggers” by Noah and the Whale (2008, from the album Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down).

Noah and the Whale is a folk-rock quintet from London who have released three albums since their formation in 2006. Two former members –Emmy The Great and Laura Marling– have gone on to have successful solo careers. Another had to give up the band so he could become a doctor.

The band got their name because they’re fascinated by the films of Noah Baumbach, and in particular, his 2005 film The Squid and The Whale. I like Baumbach a lot, and that’s the one of his that I like the least. Conversely, Kicking and Screaming is one of my favorite movies by anyone. I suggest that everyone watch it. Not the Will Ferrell movie about little kids playing soccer. The movie about a group of friends who graduate college in the mid-1990s and have no idea what to do with themselves. It’s low-budget as hell, but has some medium-budget actors. Medium-budget actors including Parker Posey. Her role is small, but memorable. Y’all know how much I like Parker Posey. Enough about that, though.

You might be wondering why, if the band is so infatuated with the films of Noah Baumbach, they should be dressed (in the photo above) like they’re in a Wes Anderson movie. I don’t have the answer for that, but I like the photo anyway.

A certain Chicago-based music website has been really unkind to Noah and the Whale over the years, and the truth of the matter is that their reception has been spotty. Despite this, they’ve sold a ton of records. Peaceful… went Gold in the UK, while their newest record, Last Night on Earth went Platinum in the UK. The sales certificates issued by the British Phonographic Industry have different criteria than those issued by the Recording Industry Association of America. Both agencies do their counting based on units shipped rather than units sold, but in the UK, an album is awarded “Platinum” status when it ships 300,000 units. It takes a million shipments to achieve Platinum status in the US. Of course these days they have certificates for digital sales, but this record’s certification is counting physical copies only. And this is probably too much academics for right now. Maybe another time…

Even if you don’t recognize the name of the band, there’s a really good chance that you’ve heard one of their songs. They had a song “5 Years Time” featured in a car commercial a few years ago. Saturn, I think. Also in a SunChips commercial. Or, if you live in France or Poland, you’ve heard that same song in a series of commercials for Orange Telcom.

Speaking of hearing songs, I’ll go ahead and get into tonight’s song.
“Rocks and Daggers” by Noah and the Whale

The finger-picked guitar right there at the beginning has an air of familiarity. Something reminiscent of the yacht-rock of the late 1970s. As cheesy as yacht-rock is, I kinda dig it. Yeah, it’s smooth and mellow, and that bit sounds like “Sailing” by Christopher Cross.

In this song, the way Charlie Fink sings, it reminds me a bit of Scott Hutchison from the Scottish indie band Frightened Rabbit. I actually had to make sure that Fink isn’t Scottish. It’s just this song, though. There aren’t any others that make me think of Frightened Rabbit.

I’m almost certain that no matter what the credits say, it’s Emmy The Great who does the backup vocals here. The credits indicate that it was Laura Marling, but it doesn’t sound like her at all. Her voice is deeper than the one doing background vocals here. Anyway… When they made this record, Marling had been dating frontman Charlie Fink. However, by the time the album released, they called their relationship quits, and she left the band to pursue her solo stuff.

On that note, oddly, it seems like the song is about an unsteady relationship. One where you learn to love and depend on the rocky bits. Because, you know… Without the rocky bits, the smooth bits aren’t as awesome. One of those BrontĂ« sisters said something about not craving a rose unless you dare to grasp the thorns. This guy says it in a different way.

The rocks
They will always hold in the sea
And erosion can’t stop their being
Oh no currents can defeat them
And I am thankful for the love
These rocks have always given

And although
This boat is steady now
One wave could pull me under
And I’ll be stranded out at sea
And I will pray that those rocks
Will be there for me

And the sun always shines down on your shoes
Could be a blue blue Christmas for you
‘cos when the sun always shines down on your shoes
Could be a blue blue Christmas for you

I love the way that your hair is always neat
And your skirts fall below your knees
And your love is so pure and so clean

Oh, it comforts me

I love the way that you’re always surprised
Oh, to find truth in all my lies
‘cos you trust me and ignore my disguise

Oh, it comforts me

But there’s no need to play with my heart

The vague reference to Christmas is purely coincidental. I didn’t remember that line until I had already picked the song and listened to it a few times while I wrote.

You can get Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down from the amazon store here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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