Villagers: {Awayland} (EMI)

Villagers: Judgement Call
Villagers: {Awayland} (EMI)

If there was an issue with multi-instrumentalist Conor O'Brien's otherwise excellent 2010 solo debut album Becoming a Jackal (under his nom de disque Villagers) it was that he repeatedly wrote as a universal, wisdom-infused observer, the all-seeing “I” as it were.

This more sonically expansive outing – former pop-rocker and sometime folkie embraces electronics, horns, strings – adopts a less authoritative voice and more emotionally engaged if intellectual tone.

Coupling memorable melodies and lyrics with subtle arrangements, this fulfills all the promise of that debut (which was shortlisted for the Mercury and Choice awards in the UK, and picked up the Ivor Novello songwriting award for its title track).

Songs here allude to incomplete fill-the-gaps narratives (the time-shifting urgency of Earthly Pleasures) and hard-edge images abound as much as suggestions of metaphysical (and zoological) ideas, and they often soar –as with Nothing Arrived – on delightfully uplifting pop melodies. Or race on the back of propulsive beats (the melodramatic The Bell with its guitar twang).

There are also pastoral passages and, in Newfound Land, a Paul Simon-like lullaby-cum-meditation.

O'Brien's clear, gently enunciated vocals carry everything, and the diverse but coherent {Awayland} is one of this year's early keepers and growers.

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Saskia - Feb 4, 2013

Ahhh, so exciting! I've loved Villagers ever since i saw him perform 'Becoming a Jackal' on Jools Holland :)

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