As invigorating as a bright blue puffy-clouded day, “Zorbing” bursts with melody and innocence, but gets there on its own terms. For the first 35 seconds, we hear only the light, idiosyncratic voice of Brian Briggs and a one-note bass line. Maybe you’ll notice it’s a wonderful melody he’s singing, or maybe you’ll be a bit distracted by the minimalist presentation. Just wait.
His band mates join in vocally at 0:36 and wow that can’t be what anyone was expecting—an almost barbershop quartet-like burst of harmony, baritone and bass voices with little precedent in rock’n’roll after the doo-wop era ended. The bass guitar player at the same time frees himself from his one-note prison and I am completely engaged now. A simple drumbeat and a faintly-played acoustic guitar come on board at 0:54, but with the emancipation of the bass the song now feels both fleshed out and buoyant; when the vocal harmonies return in this setting (1:19), they sound even more striking. Later on we get trumpets and a freewheeling keyboard—so freewheeling, in fact, it not only shifts the feel of the song’s chords but sometimes sounds like it’s floated in from a different song. This is perhaps an unintended consequence of the recording, which was done by the band in non-studio locations like dorm rooms and garages. But it furthers the song’s fancy-free vibe, as does the knowledge of what “zorbing” actually is: “the recreation of rolling downhill in an orb, generally made of transparent plastic” (thanks, Wikipedia!).
Stornoway is a quartet from Oxford, named after a small island town in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. “Zorbing” was originally self-released as a single last summer. The band was signed to 4AD this spring, and the label released Beachcomber’s Windowsill in May in the UK. The band had planned to release their debut themselves, and the label liked it enough to put it out pretty much in its original, demo-like form. A US release is set for August. MP3 via
4AD One Track Mind, with a thank you to Frank at Chromewaves for the tip.