This album review appeared in GoldenPlec Music magazine

        Villagers - Album Review 

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Villagers’ 2013 album {Awayland} has been one of the most enjoyable listens of the year, if not one of its most intriguing. To hear an Irish artist compose which such ambition and confidence is a refreshing thing to listen to, and comes as a roaring follow up to their 2010 success ‘Becoming the Jackal’. Conor O’ Brien’s album sings like a ballad and plays like a suicide note, venturing into sadness and ecstasy the album takes a listener through a spectrum of emotions, it’s a concept album which refuses to allow the listener know what that concept is.

The opening track My Lighthouse lays a blanket of soft harmony and gentle fingerpicked chords out before the listener, invites them to sit with it; and then offers them a human eye to picnic on. The sinister lines ‘we’ll skin the corpse’ delivered by the delicate vocals and instrumentation are sung in foreboding anticipation of the rest of the album; which goes on to mesh the morbid and pleasant using what seems to be, almost every instrument under the sun. Earthly Pleasures holds true to the prophecy of the opening track and O’Brien’s cryptic lyrics set an immediate sense of unease until it breaks into its hooky chorus, with chattering drums and ascending vocal pleas. The verse is hurried and unsettling which adds to the oscillating changes from dark to light.

The mood only two tracks in is again taken down, as the third track The Waves is sung like spoken word poetry over an electronic metronome until it breaks into a Neil Hannon-esque brass and piano glimpse of hope, only to be finished off with a whispered repetition of ‘Approaching the Shore’ as the drums and bass carry it heavily home. Judgement Call then opens up, reaching crescendo before we even have time to get over the crashing end of the previous track. A polyphonic riff softens the blow of the crescendo and reminds us of the sheer unpredictability of the album.

Finally were given the familiar sounds of pop piano and guitar clearing the air of the disorientating mood of the albums introductory tracks. Nothing Arrived runs a memorable chorus and verse which brings up the mood of the album, allowing us to breathe deeply and feel the sunshine of O’Briens voice before were plunged back into the incongruent musical variety of The Bell. Shades of westerns and James Bond are familiar to the ear but not to the album, exemplary of the albums musical variety.

The title track and instrumental {Awayland} sends us sleepily into the last track which could promises any return to the straightforward ease of listening that came with Nothing Arrived. Passing a Message is one the most interesting tracks, returning us to the sheer obscurity of the opening tracks set against familiar and funky bass, the short piano interlude however loses some of the track’s momentum, jarring the driving bass which is the real star of the song.

When we reach the Grateful Song we are met again with eerie lyrics which sound like a prayer to the ‘Gods of Misery’. By this stage in the album O’Brien seems to lead us out of the confusing, but compelling styles that permeate much of the albums main body. The final two tracks aid in the comedown from the albums hectic and riveting previous nine songs, easing the transition back to the real world.

{Awayland} is an album which both requires and deserves copious replay, if only to make sense of O’Brien’s poetry, as well as being an album which asks for its listener to take the album in its entirety. Listening to {Awayland}’s disorientating sound will have you asking “What was it all about”?, which