Miserablist is a potent genre within the wider spectrum of ‘indie music’, and it’s a rich seam that bands hailing from the dreaming spires of Oxford have long mined to great effect. Ever seen a Radiohead fan smile? Ever seen Foals crack a joke? Their po-faced brand of ‘serious’ rock for ‘serious’ aficionados has proved to be a winner with music buyers and music critics alike; a not inconsiderable accomplishment, and not one to be scoffed at. Stornoway, by contrast, are determined to drag the tone of Oxford music kicking and screaming into a land where contented cherubs frolic on the banks of the Isis and wittle bunniwunnies cavort wildly amongst the detritus of the Cowley Road.
Oppressively jolly their music may be, but simple it isn’t. Stornoway play with musical texture and dynamics like Foals fans play with their hair (which is to say, incessantly and with great aptitude). More than any other point of reference, their efforts run parallel to the Guillemots in terms of the actual sound of the music. Both bands are playfully experimental and carefree about their aesthetic while never loosing control of the end result. Where they differ is in emotional depth. Guillemots have the tendency to smack you ’round the face with a poignant revelation just as you’re getting into the party mood. Stornoway are more likely to top up your drink and introduce you to one of their friends they think you’ll really get on well with.
Ultimately Stornoway are not a ‘cool’ band. They’re geeky and clever and great company, but they lack the heartless detachment that is perhaps necessary for success in the current music climate. Does that mean that they’re of less worth than their more despondent contemporaries? Maybe so. I can think of scant few cases of ‘great art’ in any field that are so unremittingly upbeat, but by the same token, when faced with a choice between a dour classic and this cheery forty-five minutes I know which I’d choose.