Albums of Note... Heaped with praise and riding high in the UK charts, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away is not only an artistic triumph but a commercial one, too. Cave’s songwriting style has mutated significantly since his early days as frontman and resident wildcard of The Birthday Party; he now resembles a particularly well-dressed bar fly and his songs are peppered with his quintessentially erudite turn of phrase.
For our reviewer, Push the Sky Away demonstrates Cave and his cohorts at their finest:“Knowing when to stop and what to leave out, when adding more will lessen the quality and having the strength of character to just cut away the surplus is most definitely driven by the ever uncompromising Cave and here it has clearly paid dividends… Push The Sky Away' has a delicacy and tenderness woven through it like a fine silken tapestry of beguiling beauty but it can still be unflinching and brutal.”
Conor O'Brien's Villagers second album (Awayland), as the title suggests, is an ambitious and immersive effort that's primarily concerned with creating its own dreamscape. It's a bigger record both in terms of scope and execution than their 2010 debut, the Mercury nominated Becoming A Jackal. This new set of songs isn't always successful though, as they get bogged down within O'Brien's dense and occasionally psychedelic narrative, but there is much to admire here.
It's also interesting to see O'Brien expanding his musical palette, while letting the rest of the band undertake some of the heavy lifting. The most welcome addition is the subtle electronica that bubbles to the surface of some of the compositions. There's also some impressive harmonising from the band throughout.
The key track for understanding the intention and part of the problem with (Awayland) is 'Earthly Pleasure'. Following the decidedly more sedate and concise opener 'My Lighthouse', O'Brien details the daydream of his protagonist. The use of an electronic vocal stutter as he sets the scene ("Naked on the toilet with a toothbrush in his mouth. He suddenly acquired an overwhelming sense of self-doubt. Every single piece of baggage he'd been holding on his back was beginning to dig in and his back began to crack".) is effective. However as strings begin to swirl and guitars become more frenzied the lyrics descend into a somewhat confusing stream of consciousness narrative. Ultimately that's the problem with some of the material here, the lyrical detours sometimes feel too clever for their own good.
Continue reading: Villagers - Awayland Album Review
We’re still in a period of calm for the music industry, as far as album releases go. What this does mean for those that do release albums at the start of the year, however, is that they tend to get more attention than they may otherwise do.
Of course, with last night’s Golden Globes success, the Hollywood version of Les Miserables is hardly sat quietly in the corner begging for attention. Having taken home the Best Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical award, as well as Best Actor for Hugh Jackman, all eyes are on the musical which has been widely tipped for an Oscar and no doubt that will translate to album sales in the UK as it has done in the US, too.
Villagers' new single, 'Cecilia & Her Selfhood' is available to download from the band's website. It follows on from the band's debut album, 'Becoming A Jackal', which was released through Domino Records (Arctic Monkeys; Franz Ferdinand; The Kills) in May 2010 to critical acclaim.
Continue: Villagers - Cecelia & Her Selfhood
As one-day music festivals go, London's Field Day stands out from the crowd as being the most ambitious and forward-thinking certainly in terms of its booking policy. Concentrating on the more hip end of the spectrum along with legendary artists of yore, the Eat Your Own Ears curated event has hosted the likes of Wild Beasts, Laura Marling, Foals, The Horrors and Bat For Lashes at very early stages in their artistic development since its inaugural bash in 2007. Situated in Victoria Park just a stones throw away from Mile End tube station in the capital's east side, this year has seen Field Day expand its number of stages to seven, with the Do You Come Here Often? and joint venture between the Lock Tavern and Shacklewell Arms each hosting line-ups for the first time.
Continue reading: Field Day, Victoria Park, London. 6th August 2011 Live Review
Now that the dust has had a chance to settle in the wake of the nominations for the 2010 Barclaycard Mercury Prize and both press and public have had a chance to get over the usual furore the annual announcement brings (including the now traditional 'Who on earth are they?'), it would appear that most opinions are leaning towards a victory for London band The xx. However, when it comes to this award, a nod from the bookies has often proved to be the kiss of death for many a band in the past, so perhaps now is the perfect time to turn our attentions to one of the more discreet of the 12 nominations, Becoming a Jackal, the debut album from Irish singer-songwriter Conor J O'Brien under the pseudonym Villagers.
In an age where a great deal of significance is attached to speed and concision, the ability to get your message across without taking up other people's precious time, many bands understandably choose to open their albums firing on all cylinders, throwing everything they've got at their listeners in a sometimes desperate bid to maintain the interest of their audience and the funding of their record label. No such tactic is adopted on Becoming a Jackal, O'Brien choosing instead to ensnare your ears by stealth. Opener 'I Saw the Dead' quickly traces a distinct musical landscape of chilling timbres, piano, organ, strings and percussion artfully blended against an eerie invitation: 'Have you got just a minute? Are you easily led? Let me show you the backroom where I saw the dead'. Like a horror film you just can't look away from, it's a track that hooks you there and then, emerging from a trance-like state into something altogether harder hitting before slipping away once more to an ending so ominous that it will still shock you after multiple listens.
O'Brien immediately alters his formula, throwing you headlong into the macabre romance of the title track, its rhythmical meanderings akin to a musical soul-search. By the time the infectious stomp of 'Ship of Promises' and the tender confession of 'The Meaning of the Ritual' have been reached, it is becoming clear how truly unique and original this artist is. While dozens of influences could probably be identified if they were searched for (for example, the former track echoes ELO while the latter identifies with the balladry of Richard Hawley), such an exercise is ultimately fruitless. Villagers doesn't really 'sound like' anything or anyone in the business today, least not in this year's Mercury category.
Lyrically too, O'Brien is in a league of his own, swinging somewhere between neo-romance and nightmare. He deftly handles his subject matter with insight and maturity, 'Home' being a prime example; here the startling imagery of disturbed family values and a society in disarray is fascinatingly pitched against playful musical material and an endearing repeated refrain 'Can you call me when we're almost halfway?'.
The liner notes state that all music on the record, with the exception of French horn and strings, is performed by O'Brien, a total credit to his facilities as a musician when taking into account how professional and unique a sound he has created. Pulling off a project in such style requires astute judgement and an awareness of his capabilities and strengths as a performer. Vocally he is alluringly mercurial: disturbed in the morose album opener, endearing in the whimsical 'The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)', passionate in the narrative of a crumbling relationship 'That Day'.
On the whole, Becoming a Jackal is an album that refuses to sit still, both musically and emotionally, between tracks. Just listen to the contrast between 'Set the Tigers Free' and 'Twenty-Seven Strangers', a move from the disquiet to the audibly exhausted. Yet the whole affair bears the very clear stylistic stamp of a musician with a game-plan.
If, as its website proclaims, the Mercury Prize is concerned solely with the music of each album, then why shouldn't Villagers stand a fighting chance? Musically beguiling, lyrically enticing, there is simply nothing out there quite like this debut LP. You can keep your Mumford & Sons, your crest of the wave artists. As the toasty album closer 'To Be Counted Among Men' warms your ears in the wake of the heart-breakingly soulful 'Pieces', you realise that the 'just a minute' Conor J O'Brien asked you to spare has turned into three-quarters of an hour. What's more, it's a three-quarters-of-an-hour that you won't want to stop reliving any time soon. At the end of the day, surely no amount of awards and accolades can beat that?
As the founder and essentially focal point of Villagers, Conor O'Brien is a man on a mission. Already bitten once by the harsh realities of the music industry after the sudden implosion of previous outfit The Immediate, his latest project looks set to finally establish him as one of the most promising songwriters of his generation.
Continue reading: Villagers, Interview