Villagers - Becoming a Jackal
Record Label: Domino Recording Company
Release Date: May 14, 2010
Piano riddles, brisk guitar bashing, glistening bells, soaring violins and those tortured melancholia laced lyrics. Okay we get it already; nobody understands you, and you need us to get it. Nobody fully understands anyone. Harumph. Same shit, different band. But hang on a cotton picking second, what’s this? Another alternative and pretentiously haunting album? No? This time it’s different. It’s just working. The melody-voice combo’s are working together, and incredibly hard at it too. And bizarrely, it’s coming out of Ireland. It’s technically a Conor J. O’Brien solo album. It’s Villagers.
The music on offer here is both infectious and quaint. A real dead end yet life-aint-so-bad white wash of an album. The melodies are simple and constantly building up towards something, and they rarely reach that climax either, but who cares when it sounds this good? The voice is the most important part of Villagers, with O’Brien having no illusions about what he vocally can or cannot do. He establishes an astounding vocal presence early on and his consistency throughout the unified body of work is evident. His pitch is mellow, and slowly caresses listeners on songs such as "I Saw The Dead" or "The Pact ('I'll Be Your Fever')", but is capable of hitting them sporadically with different tones of hymning or rhythmic bellows of sound in different places on "Pieces" or "That Day". The music itself is very dark upon a closer inspection, frighteningly dark (with occasional speckles of good old modest Irish optimism).
The hopeful and thoroughly poppy single “Becoming a Jackal” brings you on a journey of artistic dreaming with the lyrics “I was a dreamer/Staring out windows/Out onto the main street/Because that’s where the dream goes” and by the time it ends you may feel like you went along on your own equally watery trip. “Ship of Promises” draws you in with drumming that is quite similar to a droning Battles, and the vocals continuously titillates the eardrums. Yummy. The disheartening “Twenty-Seven Strangers” describes in haunting detail a bus trip that sums up anonymity in common city life. It’s a beautiful listen. The albums lyrical content overall demonstrates a raw, moody mindframe for a world trapped in the lonely clutches of modernity. If the jackal-like howling at the end of “Pieces” does not emote to you on some psychological level, then clearly we are all just wasting our time here.
Villagers are currently impacting just a minute raindrop in the polluted seas of the melancholic alt-rock music scene in Europe, but with live performances on major radio stations rolling out and being nominated for the highly prestigious Mercury Music Prize 2010 in Britain, the wave of emotion may be heading worldwide. There is certainly a place in everyone's record collection for an album as emotive as this. On this debut, Conor O’Brien has created something truly special. It’s Villagers. “I’m spinning words, but there’s no meaning.”