London's Noah & the Whale play music that goes by several vague classifications: anti-folk, folk-pop, twee-rock, and, that most useless of descriptions, indie. Put plainly, the band's debut album, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, will be manna from heaven for people waiting for the next Sufjan Stevens or Decemberists record. Led by precocious 21-year-old Charlie Fink, Noah & the Whale construct their songs around acoustic guitars and whimsical observations about love and life. From those bare bones, fiddle and harmonium slowly start to insinuate themselves, and once you work past your objections to Fink's wimpy voice, what becomes clear is that not only is he less pretentious than some of his art-folk peers, he can be more affecting than them, too.
Those moments tend to be the less-fussy ones. The plaintive number "Give a Little Love" is as straightforward as its title, powered by Fink's acoustic guitar but with spare instrumentation popping up here and there to accent his romantic declarations. And while the six-minutes-plus title track starts off as a simple meditation on death, as it builds slowly to its beautiful ending, Fink demonstrates that he's not just another hipster wearing irony as a shield: "If you don't believe in God/How can you believe in love/When we're all just matter/That will one day scatter?" Unfortunately, everything on Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down isn't up to that same level of heart-tugging candor. But the best stuff here makes you hope that Fink will soon outgrow the album's weaker stretches and make something that can't ever be scattered.
Tim Grierson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.