Attentive, gentle rock’n’roll that tells a tender story with an absorbing series of musical and lyrical details. “Tumbling Bay” is one of those songs so artfully arranged that you can isolate any slice and find all sorts of goodness to relish. At any moment, there are wonderful things going on with the guitar work, the percussion, and the vocals, never mind how these separate elements are continually weaving in and around each other, and working to create a whole that transcends its parts.
The song is named for a swimming area that used to exist in the Thames River in Oxford, the quartet’s hometown, and is a tale of unrequited love, told, unusually, from the perspective of the unwitting object rather than the tortured subject. Singer Brian Briggs has a distinctively innocent-sounding tenor, and he serves up the halting, affecting melodies with conviction; but don’t miss as well the background vocal efforts of his bandmates, as Stornoway is not averse to letting the whole band sing at the same time. (Indeed, the simple vocal coda we get at 3:36 is both haunting and oddly cathartic, not to be missed.)
“Tumbling Bay” is one of six songs to be found on the group’s newly-released “mini-album,” You Don’t Know Anything, which is a follow-up to its full-length Tales From Terra Firma, released earlier this year. Thanks to Lauren Laverne at BBC6 for the head’s up, and thanks to Rolling Stone for the MP3. Stornoway was last seen here in July 2010, for the fabulous song “Zorbing,” which ended up among my top 10 favorite free and legal MP3s of the year that year.