Original Release Date: 16 September 2008 (Cherrytree Records)
As I walked to the first class of my second semester, International Sign Language 101, I had my ear buds in place. I was lost in my own world. In the five minutes it took to walk across campus, I began listening to the newest obsession on my iPod – Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down by Noah and the Whale.
The album opens with the wavering tone of a harmonium and the fade in of a distant sounding, face paced acoustic guitar riff. After a few finger snaps in beat, the atmospheric introductory music cuts away and Charlie Fink’s voice and guitar are front and center. “2 Atoms in a Molecule” begins with Fink retelling a dream of love. He imagines he and his lover “were inseparably entwined/ Like a piece of rope made out of two pieces of vine.” The full band kicks in and the singer awakes from his dream. He is alone. He laments about the pangs of love. And he asks, “If love is just a game, then how come it’s no fun?/ If love is juts a game, how come I’ve never won?”
I listened to these lyrical lines of lamentation about love and entered the classroom. I removed each ear bud and took a seat near the back of the room, where I usually sat on the first day of class. About two minutes before class began, in walked this woman with shoulder-length, coiled, raven hair. But this beautiful stranger was not the average unknown acquaintance. My crush for her began during my third week on campus.
I had noticed her in the dining hall. A couple times a week, we both ate a few meals at the same time. The first time I saw her, she appeared as an unattainable, attractive woman. From afar, I fantasized about her, but never had the courage to actually speak to her.
I had a few relationships in high school. Some ended in a good way, some ended badly. When I went away for college, I assumed I would fall in love with one of the thousands of girls on campus. But during my first semester, there were no realistic “hopefuls.” I met women, but I didn’t click with any of them. Like the opening songs of this album, I was alone with my hankering heart.
“Shape of My Heart” is a catchy, upbeat song that deals with the wounds of a broken heart. It assembles a march-like snare with pounding tom drums to steadily beat out a tempo underneath the chamber pop orchestration. Utilizing a simile to the effects the changing seasons have upon nature, the lyrics postulate, “For your heart is like a flower as it grows,/ And it’s the rain, not just the sun, that helps it bloom.”
Sometime during that first semester, I took notice of this beauty. Occasionally I would see her on campus, usually in the cafeteria, and be drawn in to her brilliance. The singular combination of her dark hard and incandescent blue eyes was captivating, but it was the way she carried her self that enamored me. Her stance seemed to be built on a natural confidence that only she possessed. And when she laughed, she exuded a radiance that locked and intrigued all of my emotions.
Much like the track “Give a Little Love,” my world felt huge and my essence was changing for the better. The musical arrangement of this song highlights the band’s use of selectiveness and pop sensibility. The drums choose their moments between the acoustic guitar, bass, fiddle, piano, harmonium, and handclaps. The immensity of the instrumentation is mirrored with the emphasis of lines like, “My love is my whole being” and “My heart is bigger than the earth.” Additionally, it’s hard to deny the Beatles-esque quality of the lyrics with the refrain (“If you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own”) and the call and response style at the end of the song.
After a week of the sign language course, I hadn’t learned much more about this woman who had become the object of my desire. But I finally learned her name. Jessica. Seeing her three times a week, my confidence was building and my mind optimistically wandered.
While I still hadn’t spoken to her, I envisaged a relationship. Similar to the “5 Years Time,” my mind not only imagined about the onset of a possible relationship, it also thought further down the road. As the beginning of any relationship leads to assumptions of long lasting love, this song starts out presuming the couple is laughing about the past five years together. Opening with whistling, ukulele, fiddle, and Fink’s baritone voice singing an uber-catchy melody. The song continues its pop appeal throughout its 3-½ minutes, but the lyrics ground themselves in some reality. “Though maybe all these moments are just in my head/ I’ll be thinking about them as I’m lying in bed/ Though that maybe it might not even come true/ But in my mind I’m having a pretty good time with you.”
The Noah and the Whale album progresses through numerous permutations of love, from the opening dream of “2 Atoms in a Molecule” to the closing chords of “2 Bodies 1 Heart.” Above the slow acoustic guitar strums of that final song, Fink revisits lyrics from the album’s first song. “We’re 2 atoms in a molecule inseparably combined/ Like a piece of rope made out of two pieces of vine.” The mellow song adds layers of vocals and regal trumpets to signify the triumph of love’s conquest.
And finally, a few weeks into the semester, I was in the cafeteria line behind her. Trying not to be rhetorical, I queried, “It’s Jessica, right?” She beamed and nodded.
Our ISL class had only taught us the manual alphabet so far, so I began by raising my pinking finger and spelled out, “I a-m L-u-k-e.”
Her grin got larger and she spelled out, “I k-n-o-w.”