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Villagers, ‘{Awayland}’ – Album Review

Villagers
Domino Records

‘My Lighthouse,’ the opening track on Villagers’ second album ‘{Awayland},’ sounds a lot like the songs on their 2010 debut ‘Becoming a Jackal.’ It’s soft, moody and played entirely by singer-songwriter Conor J. O’Brien with no outside support. But then ‘{Awayland}’ takes a different shape, as sprinklings of electronic rubble, a weighty backing and a full band enter the scene.

‘Becoming a Jackal’ posited O’Brien as the next big thing out of Ireland – and there have been plenty Irish Next Big Things over the years, from Van Morrison to U2 to Snow Patrol. The music on Villagers’ debut (which O’Brien played all by himself) carried on a folk tradition that found as much heart in corner pubs as it did in congested stadiums. The occasional orchestral waves that surfaced contributed to the pull of its tiny anthems.

On ‘{Awayland},’ O’Brien goes bigger. Most of the time. That acoustic opener layers O’Brien’s voice in harmony; other than that, the song is as spare as they come. But on ‘Earthly Pleasure,’ skittering electronics usher along the story of a man who was “naked on the toilet with a toothbrush in his mouth when he suddenly acquired an overwhelming sense of doubt.” By the end of the song, O’Brien’s rhythmic lyrics, which he delivers like an old-time Irish poet, are all but buried in the expansive musical canvas Villagers lay out.

It’s the musically adventurous moments that make ‘{Awayland}’ a richer experience than ‘Becoming a Jackal.’ ‘The Waves’ builds from a thin tapping percussion beat to a widescreen landscape with strings, horns, guitar feedback and skipping synths. And ‘The Bell’ rushes out like a James Bond theme for people who like their indie rock delivered by pensive Irish singer-songwriters.

Still, ‘{Awayland}’’s best song is its most conventional. The gentle folk-rock of ‘Nothing Arrived’ is pushed forward by piano that eventually gives in to swelling strings, which carry it all the way to its heavenly end. O’Brien stumbles when he doesn’t have much to offer — the instrumental title track is a boring bust; so is ‘In a Newfound Land You Are Free,’ which is as tedious as it sounds. But the widening scenery of ‘{Awayland}’ opens up more than just his communal spirit.

6 out of 10 diffuser.fm rating

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