Snow Patrol – Final Straw

Snow Patrol
Final Straw

It’s always a little surprising when someone forces me out of my indie world and I have to come to grips with the fact that – despite the redundancy and tediousness on the radio today – some major labels do sign brilliant artists. Snow Patrol, on Polydor and A&M, has released what is clearly one of my favorite and most-listened-to albums of the year, and oddly enough it’s only possible label would be what I would normally call indie pop and rock.

Taking a page both from Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse, Final Straw is the third album by this British band, and it’s surely the band’s best. Led by Gary Lightbody’s stellar songwriting and vocals, the song combines effect-laden guitar with an indie-pop songwriting approach, giving these songs a textured effect while never obscuring Lightbody’s introspective and personal lyrics.

“How to Be Dead” opens with light and airy guitar and drums, taking a head-bobbing approach yet filling the whole track out with some nice atmospheric keyboards and effects. The lyrics are brilliant, telling a story of desperation and longing behind a nice mid-tempo rock song. Much more rocking, “Wow” has some great pedal effects to fill out the track, and “Chocolate” features incredibly strong pop singing and powerful drumming. “Just because I’m sorry doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it at the time,” Lightbody sings, perhaps equating chocolate with some other guilty pleasure. “I’m broken and I’m colder than hell,” he sings on “Grazed Knees,” a much more laid-back and personal-feeling song.

The single here, “Spitting Games,” is an amazing song. With an obviously pop foundation, your head will be bobbing along even as the guitars layer on top of each other. And despite the pop framework, the lyrics are extremely serious and powerful: “It’s not as if I need the extra weight / confused enough by life, so thanks a lot.” “Run” is a moody, down and dark track. “You’ve been the only thing right in all I’ve done,” Lightbody sings. Then the track reaches its glorious crescendo during the almost unbelievable chorus, a moment that catches me every time and truly cements Snow Patrol’s brilliance in my mind. The third true piece of brilliance is the gorgeous “Somewhere a Clock is Ticking.” Mixing amazing vocals and the haunting sounds of cello, this is probably the band’s crowning moment.

The band’s approach is truly inventive. Electronic beats and synths give “Gleaming Auction” an almost danceable feel before thick guitars break in, and there’s a host of effects used in “Ways & Means” that somehow work in effortless in this great big rock song. The upbeat “Tiny Little Fractures” will surely appeal to fans of the big upbeat rock sounds popular these days. And piano mixes for the lovely “Same,” which ends the album with a kind of sing-along chorus you just want to be a part of.

Snow Patrol is the full-time effort for Lightbody, who also fronts Reindeer Section with members of Idlewild, Arab Strap, and Teenage Fanclub. The production here gives the album a major-label feel, so precise and perfect that each sound is remarkably clear, something indie bands can’t often accomplish. So all the more power to Snow Patrol for finding success. Yet it wouldn’t surprise me if the themes here are too heavy-handed for a major-label crowd, instead finding more support with those who greatly enjoyed the more solo-feeling Reindeer Section.

Regardless, this is certainly my favorite British release of the year, and it’s enough to get me tracking down the band’s previous efforts.