The follow-up to 2013’s End Game, opens with ‘Somewhere New’, a two-minute instrumental build around a gentle piano chord progression.
As an opener it’s a pleasant melodic interlude that offers few signifiers of what is to follow.
By track two however, it’s obvious that the Glasgow/Edinburgh trio are in the process of ascending to new heights.
With its spooling guitar figure and close harmonies, ‘Life Decays’ taps into a lineage that runs back through a host of great American folk rock bands all the way to the godfathers of the whole scene, The Byrds.
Frontman Ali Downer sings “I want to walk by a river…I want to know what they all know lately…I want to know why life decays,” before bursting into a chorus reminiscent of REM on the cusp of their mainstream breakthrough.
It’s unquestionably their most instant track to date and a prime example of the group’s ability to fashion melodic hooks that burrow deep in the brain.
The horns that marked their debut out from the rest of the current crop of Teenage Fanclub disciples are put to good use on ‘More Girl than Friend’, while ‘Roberto’ channels vintage Idlewild on a guitar led stomper that seems a likely candidate for a live staple.
Downer’s impassioned vocals take the group from gently strummed acoustic guitar break into a widescreen crescendo worthy of Roddy Woombles’s gang
If there’s a criticism to be levelled at Foreign Organ it’s that the pacing can be a little uneven; ‘Face Able’ pulls out all the stops with clanging guitars and an uplifting brass line that threatens to drown out Downer’s vocals, before the record’s most world weary track ‘Carbon Mold’ drags us back to earth with a bump.
Fortunately the record ends strongly with two of the group’s strongest tracks to date: the dramatic ‘Rust’ translates strings and brass into a classy duet redolent of Arcade Fire, while the stark piano ballad ‘Scotland’ demonstrates a knack for King Creosote-style rain-soaked folklore.
With vaunting ambition and effortless song craft, Woodenbox have transcended their folk-rock roots and released one of the year’s best albums; it’ll be fascinating to see what comes next.
Words: Max Sefton