Villagers – Becoming A Jackal (Domino) 24/05/2010

May 13, 2010 by  

Dublin’s multi-instrumentalist Conor J. O’Brien’s debut is a simplistic, wistful album. Releasing his opus under the Villagers tag, he’s a talented singer-songwriter releasing his poetry in musical form, and although it’s a laid back record, it’s hardly languid.

We begin with a red herring in the quite theatrical ‘I Saw The Dead’. Echoic jingle bells and the hauntingly high pitched strings are joined by quite melodramatic piano arpeggios and sombre vocals forming what sounds like the score for a Jonathan Creek mystery.

Thankfully it’s a slight sidestep on a quite intriguing debut, followed by the title track and lead single, ‘Becoming A Jackal’ (recently debuted on Jool’s Holland). The jingle bells are back, but more welcome alongside the understated acoustic guitar strumming and meandering bass. The addition of a more positive vocal from O’Brien, it’s a delightful stroll in the park type song. Ok so it’s hardly a groundbreaking track, but it’s clear that with Villagers it’s just about one guy, a few instruments, and a nice little album.

In fact, the attempts at breaking ground are quite cumbersome – like the aforementioned ’I Saw The Dead’, or the unnecessary over-long interlude drumming of ’Ship Of Promises’. A beautifully melodic ‘Pieces’ begins as an Arcade Fire type ballad, but ends with an untidy cacophony of ridiculous howling, yes, actual howling.

It’s when he plays it safe, the album becomes an occasionally breathtaking work. ‘The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever)’ is one of the more upbeat tracks, but is uncomplicated and fun. O’Brien himself stated that he doesn’t write in a conscious way. He was recently quoted, “The only thing I start with is a visual image or colour, and then it just happens. One line suggests the next, until I have a little patchwork quilt of ideas”.

It’s a wonderfully colourful quilt. ‘Set The Villagers Free’ dips it’s toe into Elbow territory, a possible Seldom Seen Kid B Side – which is by no means a bad thing. The gentle folk ballad ‘Twenty Seven Strangers’ is an appeasing, composed song, showing off the best of the Villagers and close to trumping Bon Iver, before he actually goes and does it. The spellbinding ‘Home’ starts with a simple piano hook and a dual bass and drum beat, before O’Brien melts in his poetic vocals, as the song bubbles and bubbles but never boils over. A nigh on perfect song, it’s an incredibly simplistic track laden with poignancy and effortless assurance.

As good a song as ‘Home’ is, it doesn‘t automatically make ‘Becoming A Jackal’ this years’ ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’. However O’Brien has given us enough proof, and enough songs to suggest that he’s got a classic in him yet. Watch out Justin Vernon.

[rating:3.5]


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