Arts and Entertainment

Album Review: The Sky is a Field

By Mary-Kate Cronin
Published: November 2009

After the successful release of their premiere album Say Hello, The Novel Ideas unleashed its masterpiece sequel, The Sky is a Field. Comprised of poetic lyrics, a buffet of instrumentation, and ethereal harmonies, it’s the kind of album that makes you want to lock yourself in a room and listen to it on repeat all day.

Founded by Newton South graduate and lead vocalist Daniel Radin, The Novel Ideas features a slew of other South alumni, including Alex Caplow on guitar and vocals, Noah Balder on bass, Jeannie Yoon on violin and vocals, Tim Cronin on the occassional trumpet, and current South senior Will Radin on drums. This folk-rock band combines the male-female duo feel of Belle and Sebastian with the energy of Sufjan Stevens. But aside from these comparisons, The Novel Ideas has a personality all its own.

The instrumentation makes this album a magical experience. Death Cab For Cutie fans will enjoy the sweet, Ben Gibbard-esque vocals sung by Caplow on “Seabird, and “A Breath of Fresh Air while the occasional cracked note from Daniel shows passion and character. The recurring conversations between Daniel and Yoon bring a sometimes flirtatious, sometimes friendly, sometimes just plain heartbreaking vibe to the group. Solid guitar and drums lay the foundation for the band, and the handful of other instruments, including trumpet, accordion, and mandolin give a full-bodied sound. To put it shortly, they sound pretty darn sweet.

While The Sky is a Field has continuity, each song has its own flavor as well, thus fitting perfectly into the many moods of the hormonal teenager. Highlights include “Homesick, “Wedding Bells, and “The Field, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the songs on this album.

“Seabird, the mellow acoustic, featuring Caplow, is perfect for those pensive, life-pondering nights; just add a car and a long stretch of road and you’re bound to stumble upon some self-discovery. Girls will swoon over Caplow’s vocals and gentle acoustic talent. A touch of brass midway through gives it sparkle, but this innocent and honest song keeps things sweet and simple.

“Wedding Bells, split into parts one and two, begins with the painful account of a wedding reception from the lens of the male ex-lover. If the eerie, weeping guitar did not reveal enough pure, utter anguish, then the heartbreaking lyrics seal the deal, “looks like you have learned to stay/ I was always second best/ It’s so hard to see you wear that dress. Although it has the potential to send the recently dumped into a state of uncontrolled tears, dumpees will find comfort in Daniel’s genuine, pained vocals.

As part one reaches its agonizing climax, however, the band steals listeners from their own loneliness with the segue into part two. Part two embarks on a starry guitar/bell duet. The forbidden love scene a la Romeo and Juliet materializes, with Daniel’s urgent statement, “when I took your hand admit that it felt right and Yoon’s honest answer, “it’s not that I don’t want to/ I just can’t see me with you after tonight. Listeners experience the ever-famous butterflies-in-stomach feeling accompanied by beautifully executed harmonies and magical guitar background.

The album concludes with The Field, a tribute to those picture-perfect halcyon days of summer. It’s perky, it’s peppy, and oh-so-very catchy. Those swamped by an influx of papers, projects, and other forms of endless trivialities can relate to Daniel’s reminiscing about the summer. The cheery guitar evokes memories of quintessential sunbeams, green grass, and drippy ice cream cones. With all these happy vibes, it may be the go-to song to get you through those long, cold January days when it’s pitch black and only a few degrees at the morning bus stop.

I could continue about the greatness of this album, but it really is something you need to hear to experience. Fans can visit the band’s site and download a free copy of The Sky is a Field. But take caution: this album is highly addictive, so be sure to prepare an isolated room and a large chunk of uninterrupted time to fully enjoy it.

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