Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Villagers: "{Awayland}" (album review)

Conor O'Brien, aka Villagers, has come a long way in the short time since I saw him perform at The Hideout as part of a CMW Irish showcase a couple of years back.  The album he was touring then, Becoming A Jackal, snagged a Mercury Prize nomination.  On April 9th he returns with the highly-anticipated follow-up {Awayland}.

Becoming A Jackal was firmly rooted in hook-filled folk music.  That still serves as the foundation for the new record, however, O'Brien has worked hard to layer many new elements on top of that.

Strings add a dramatic component to "The Bell".  They also add a sense of elegance and sophistication to "Rhythm Composer".  On "The Waves" it's horns and electronic loops that grow into a noisy crescendo.

O'Brien uses tempo to suck you into "Judgement Call".  The song becomes more and more compelling as the pace picks up, sweeping you along as it gains momentum.

On a couple of occasions O'Brien's vocals begin to bear a striking resemblance to those of Jonathan Donahue.  The ethereal hustle of "Earthly Pleasure" and the pumping drive of "Passage a Message" even have the vibe of a stripped-down Mercury Rev track.

We still get treated to a handful of fairly straightforward folk pop songs.  The album opener, "My Lighthouse" boasts an incredibly strong melody.  "Nothing Arrived" leans more towards the rock end of the spectrum, with a nice hook.

The growth in complexity and scope of Villagers' sound from the debut album to this one is remarkable.  It's encouraging to see a musician this young who seems this intent on pushing his own musical boundaries.  There will likely be missteps along the way, but the long-term Villagers journey looks to be promising.

Best tracks: "Earthly Pleasure", "Passing a Message"

Track listing for {Awayland}:
  • My Lighthouse
  • Earthly Pleasure
  • The Waves
  • Judgement Call
  • Nothing Arrived
  • The Bell
  • {Awayland}
  • Passing a Message
  • Grateful Song
  • In a Newfound Land You Are Free
  • Rhythm Composer

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