10.01.2009

Final Straw, Snow Patrol

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:19 am

One of the most brilliant things Amazon has ever done is introduce their Free Super Saver Shipping program, which gives users free shipping on any order over $25. This has worked on me numerous times to get me to buy something I otherwise wouldn’t have, just to get free shipping (even though the price of the item was probably greater than the cost of the shipping it removes). But recently, I ordered a few things from the site and to get the free shipping, also ordered Final Straw, the third album by UK band Snow Patrol and the one immediately preceding Eyes Open, the only album of theirs that I have.

Eyes Open, which I’ve written about before, is a very enjoyable CD and one that I’ve returned to in my own listening quite often. And Snow Patrol gets extra points because they opened for Coldplay earlier in their tour this year. So I was interested to see what Final Straw would be like.

I wasn’t disappointed, although I have to say it’s clearly not as good as Eyes Open. There are some really great tracks (I particularly like “Chocolate” and “Run,” tracks 6 and 7), and the sound is similar enough to Eyes Open to identify it as the same band. There’s a lot of minor electronic experimentation, mostly with little blips and bleeps that sound as if they’re somehow slightly outside the sphere of the band’s style. I also noticed that the singer’s voice is mixed differently on several different tracks; rather than finding one setting of reverb/delay/effects that makes his voice sound good, the band (or rather the producer) changed it multiple times–not only in obvious ways like adding distortion as in “Wow,” but different types of “normal” sounds to fit with different moods. And there are a plethora of short melodic ideas that are not quite hooks but serve to give the songs an identifying motif and fill empty harmonic space.

But it was interesting to listen to Eyes Open after I’d familiarized myself with Final Straw. It was clear that the band had learned lessons from the previous album and really crystallized their style. Mostly gone are the sometimes random electronic effects; the guitar playing is simpler, clearer and more direct. In a word, Eyes Open is a distillation of the best elements of Final Straw without the clutter and filler that the earlier album sometimes stumbled through. But I certainly enjoyed both records, and very much enjoyed seeing the band mature between the two.

Now I’m even more interested in getting the band’s latest release, A Hundred Million Suns, that came out last year and was the followup to Eyes Open. Anyone have that record and care to give me a sneak preview?

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    Sean D on 10.05.2009

    I haven’t heard A Hundred Million Suns, but I remember thinking the same things about Final Straw when I got it in 2005 (without the comparison to the next album, which had not been recorded yet). I also had the impression that the amount of electronic engineering being put into the album was somehow unrelated to the scope and style of song the band was aiming at. For songs that are as comparatively straight-forward and simple as are on the album, the electric engineering seemed like structurally unrelated diversions, added after the fact in post-production to add an attention-catching textural gimmick into the song. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the album, though—I wonder if every track has its own unique gimmick that shows “this is our engineering part of the song.”

    It’s interesting to see that by 2006 they had dropped most of that. When I first heard Final Straw I thought they must have hopped on the electronic music wagon that seemed to pop up after KID A did so well. I have no numbers, but at the time I recall thinking that Radiohead-style electronic textures had become a sort of fad, especially among American “Indie” and European bands. I fancy you could ever hear a little of the KID A influence on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Have you had any thoughts on this?

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    Courtney Patino on 10.07.2009

    I remember how much I loved Final Straw when it first came out. In fact, the first time I heard ‘Run’ on the radio, I went home and spent 4 hours searching all the lyrics I could remember, and fishing through all of the new music lists I could find for something that could be it. I was obsessed. Once I got the album, I slipped into a Snow Patrol-induced depression for a few days. It was a very deep connection for me. I felt at the time, that some of the messy noises and stumbles even added to that sound of disappointment and dysfunction, although it wasn’t as orchestrated as some rock chaos. (Radio head is a grand example of unnerving choices in sound.)

    Eyes Open was a whole new experience with them. It was like they had really figured out what they wanted to sound like, and stepped it up to a level where they wouldn’t just be indie and fade out, but that they really wanted to create a definitive sound that would make them a true rock-band. It was a much more positive album; it still came from the dark-grey-UK-sadness that is part of the band’s identity, but had a future-orientedness that wasn’t present in Final Straw. Or maybe I just didn’t need it to be so sad when it came out, so it wasn’t. How could our ears ever be objective, whilst living so close to our souls?

    I believe I do have the new album, which I would be happy to lend you for a listen.

    Thanks for blogging. It makes my ears wake up.

    Courtney

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