Record Label: Domino
Conor O' Brien's folky voyagers improve, exapnd, and create something of a beauitful if cynical journey
Conor O’ Brien and his band Villagers have a somewhat undiscovered knack for hinting and the stylistic trajectory of their albums via the titles they give them. For example, the Irish quintet’s 2010 debut “Becoming a Jackal” was exactly the kind of lyrically ragged and intoxicating but subtle set of songs such a title would suggest. It makes sense right from the off then that “[Awayland}”, by contrast, sees the band indulge in a much more expansive, immersive and mountainous sound. That title,”[Awayland}” not only suggests detachment due to the arrangement of syntax, but more than anything suggests that this will be a dreamy, illustrious lift off to another place.
The seismic shock kicks in straight away afterwards though with the arrival of “Earthly Pleasure.” A shuffling, robust beat is accompanied by an off- kilter funky bass line and soaring strings. It’s the first sign that O’ Brien has expanded his lyrical game too. He always had a sharp tongue for the bleak, but here he takes a leaf straight of Nick Cave’s songbook, conjuring up a surreal, twisted narrative about a child a mysterious lady in a half spoken delivery as he mutters breathily “so there he was in front of her divine simplicity, she was speaking Esperanto and drinking ginger tea.”
On “Judgement Call” a fusion of bleepery, xylophones and a darkly beautiful bass line and guitar melody spring forth in an intelligently venomous assault on Religious piety (“I don’t need no proof… We gotta get the kids before they grow”).
The album highlight is the kaleidoscopic “Nothing Arrived”, full to the brim with a subtly driving drum beat and an upbeat if slightly melancholic piano melody fizzing high above the rest of the mix, as O’ Brien wallows in a loss of hope as he sings “I waited for something, but something died/ So I waited for nothing, and nothing arrived.”
Towards the end, O’ Brien finds a balance between the previously dominating pessimism and hope in “In a New Found Land you are free” as he reasons “In a new found land comes new found grief, but in a New found Land you are free.” At this point we’re still two songs away from the end of the record, but it’s ultimately the taste of this sentiment that O’ Brien and Villages want to leave on our tongues. Surrounded by continuously moving soundscapes and a wonderfully realistic world view, it’s summed up brilliantly by “[Awayland}”, which in its own right, is a majestic beast.
Key Tracks: Nothing Arrived, In a New Found Land you are Free, Earthly Pleasure
For Fans of: Stornoway, Grizzly Bear, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds