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Thursday, 24 January 2013

#18: Villagers - {Awayland}




January seems to be a month of second albums this year, with records coming from The Joy Formidable and Everything Everything to name but two, and Irish folk band Villagers are no exception. Their second outing, {Awayland} is a fantastic cacophonous assault on the senses; a tumultuous roller-coaster journey through different genres that brings to mind a more polished and worldly Neutral Milk Hotel. Poetry is a word which has been surrounding the band since their 2010 début Becoming A Jackal, and after just one listen to {Awayland}, it's easy to see why. Singer Conor O'Brien's lyrics conjure images that seem to border on the tangible, while the music the words are enveloped in is at times more of a sound-scape in which to lose yourself than a tune you can hum along with.

The album opens with the understated 'My Lighthouse' which gives you a brief insight in to what the rest of the album will sound like, albeit a diluted version. Imagine a kind of Jeff Buckley meets Bright Eyes amalgam and you won't be far wrong. And while the former are/were fantastic at what they do/did. O'Brien lacks the moody angst that perpetuates a Bright Eyes album, and nor is the track as candid as Buckley, at least in this instance anyway

Thankfully second track entitled 'Earthly Pleasure' is where the album really begins to take hold. A brilliantly crafted narrative that tells the story of a man who finds himself back in 1822, recounting the horrors of the Brazilian war of independence to a woman who is assumed to be God. The chorus is dark and chilling while at the same time serving to uplift the dark imagery contained in the lyrics.

The first single taken from the album is another metaphorical masterpiece entitled 'The Waves' in which it becomes clearly evident that the band are influenced as much by literature as they are music. Starting off slow the song builds up before ending with a crashing crescendo of noise most likely in place to mirror the metaphorical waves from whence the song takes its name, all the while with O'Brien repeating the lyric “Approaching the shore” and sounding more and more like Conor Oberst with every utterance.

{Awayland} is an album which takes several listens to take it all in. Repeated listens to any of the tracks included reveal a nuance or lyric previously overlooked, and it's a delight to return to a song and notice something you failed to before.

'Nothing Arrived' is perhaps the most radio-friendly song included and is no surprise that is the latest single to be taken from the album. The chorus of the song is the most straightforward yet, but fantastic lyrics such as "I waited for something/ and something died/ so I waited for nothing/ and nothing arrived" not only mirror the delicate simplicity that is a main staple of the song but build on it and show the band don't just need lyrics that border on the literary and might be confused with pretention.

Just to clarify, those looking for an easy-to-listen to Folk record are probably looking in the wrong place. Instead of one man and an acoustic guitar what Villagers harbour is an orgy of understated post-folk. Utilising whatever instruments they feel work is a bold move for the band, as is the surprising inclusion of electronic instrumentation, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work. What Villagers have done is expertly craft a metaphorical masterpiece which needs to be scratched away at to reveal the literary delights underneath. While certainly not an album for everyone, those with an interest in alternative folk should definitely check out {Awayland} even if it's just to garner an understanding of what poetry should sound like in 2013.