By the time most musicians are releasing their third album, they have had their “breakthrough” into mass fandom. Stornoway are unique in numerous ways – naming their band after a place which makes it ten times harder to Google, naming their album after a sea bird, and releasing three albums from the support of fewer, but way more dedicated, followers.
Prior to the release of Bonxie, I felt anxious for Stornoway. Their second album, Tales from Terra Firma, did not live up to the quality of their first release, Beachcomber’s Windowsill. If Bonxie was to go in the same direction then Stornoway would not have much of a future left. Thankfully, Stornoway received a successful response to their attempt to fund their third LP through PledgeMusic – in fact they reached 222% of their target in only the first four days. However, the use of PledgeMusic for a third album demonstrates just how important Bonxie is for the future of Stornoway. Although it’s true that their loyal fans are extremely loyal, it’s going to take more than that to allow Stornoway to develop in the music industry.
Much like Stornoway’s previous two albums, Bonxie features a wide range of instrumentation across the entire album, always including varying strings and keyboard, making them all feel heavily layered and busy in a Mumford & Sons style. Every listen allows you to notice layers you didn’t hear the first time. Get Low includes gentle harmonies that don’t try too hard to impress – which is exactly what makes them impressive. The clever, original lyrical melody makes this song vocally a wonderful listen that outshines their previous work.
Sing With Our Senses flitters between a relaxed beat, complemented by Brian Briggs’ soothing voice, and mounting guitars. In combination with the delicate riff featured in We Were Giants, Stornoway showcase their musical talents. Technically, they play their instruments excellently. Thus, the reason for their lack of appeal to a wider audience to this point, I would argue, is their song-writing. Stornoway never seemed to intend to write for the masses, however it’s taken until Bonxie for them to perfect their own style of song-writing. The balance in tempo throughout the album is careful and allows Stornoway to successfully write personal lyrics in an appealing way. Lyrics that previously would have appeared as a diary entry now take the formation of interesting tracks, such as Heart Of The Great Alone. In addition to this, Long Song Of The Beta Male includes the fitting lyrics: “Don’t ask me to rise to your political debate / I don’t need reminding of my ignorance / I can tell you how you make me feel at night,” allowing fans to connect to Stornoway through their personal and emotionally connected lyrics.
Bonxie is nostalgic in every way; from the close return to Stornoways’ style from Beachcomber’s Windowsill, to Brian Briggs singing, “Tell me of the time we were happy as we staggered through the fields,” in We Were Giants. This track also shows how fantastical Bonxie is – displayed most obviously through the lyrics: “The clouds around our ankles” as well as the merging violins and guitar melodies. It’s fair to say that not many albums can portray the atmosphere of the fantastical so well. Another positive addition worth noting is how each track on the album is distinguishable, an important aspect which Stornoway have nailed. The a cappella at the beginning of Josephine gives the song a choir-like theme. It’s clear that Stornoway have not thought simply about what they’re singing – but how they are singing it and how that adds to the ambience of the song.
Bonxie delivers a well-thought selection of songs that portray Stornoways’ strengths. However, the LP isn’t without fault. The bird noises at the opening of Lost Youth are awful, no, horrendous. It sounds like Stornoway featuring Donald Duck. As soon as these effects are overtaken by the song, all is well. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to find any minor negativities in Bonxie or any other major faults. The Road You Didn’t Take is a catchy yet sentimental song that will grip you from start to finish – no skipping half way through. Now that they are providing well-written songs, I think everyone owes them a listen.