Thursday, May 20, 2010

Album review - Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

‘Becoming A Jackal’

RARELY has an Irish album release been accompanied with such universal expectation. Likewise, it is rare that such expectation is accompanied by a fulfilment of potential.
This is the exception to the rule.
Villagers - essentially Conor J. O’Brien - finally release debut album Becoming A Jackal after whetting many appetites with the superb Hollow Kind EP, released in February of last year.
The first Irish act signed to trendy UK record label Domino (home to Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys etc), this is an album that began life as a nameless collection of musical poems, but has become a heart-wrenching, melodic odyssey that should see O’Brien become the biggest act to come out of Ireland in many moons.
O’Brien was once in The Immediate, who imploded just as rave reviews began to see them appear set for stardom, and then spent the latter part of the last two years touring as Cathy Davey’s guitarist - notably standing out in her shows. But O’Brien was always meant for bigger and better things, such is the vividness of his lyrics, and the epic soaring scale of his vocals and musicianship (he recorded this album largely by himself with the help of producer Tommy McLaughlin).
This is quite simply a stunning album, one that will inevitably see the Dubliner compared to Eliot Smith or Conor Oberst, but there is more of a older-style feel to his debut, epic at times, subtle in others, not unlike Neil Young’s Harvest in that sense, for example.
Indeed, on the superb title track and first single, O’Brien channels Simon and Garfunkel in a song with off-kilter rhythms and popping bass lines, mixed in with soaring harmonies. It is something of a relief in the middle of two dark and subversive songs - the eerie I Saw The Dead and the unsettling and up-tempo Ship of Promises.
The Meaning of the Ritual follows, one of two songs included here that was also on the EP (the other being Pieces, in which O’Brien moves from slow, Burt-Bacarach croon to a wild, howling, finish - think Radiohead recreating the Beatles’ orchestral antics on A Day In The Life), and has been tweaked to include some impressive horn sections.
But it is the gentle lullaby of Home that is the centre-piece of this album, and shows a lighter, more playful side of the musician. The Crosby, Stills and Nash-esque The Pact is another standout, as is the subtle Set The Tigers Free.
Subtle is a defining word for this album, one that crawls under your skin, O’Brien’s lyrical abilities literally eye-opening in scale.
Quite simply, this is the finest Irish album released in many years.

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