Villagers - {Awayland}

Album two from Co Dublin experimentalists

Conor J O’Brien’s Villagers project, now essentially expanded to a five-piece, was lauded for its 2012 debut Becoming A Jackal, a folk-tinged celebration of childhood and our sense of home. On the follow-up, however, his horizons are flung far wider – both lyrically and sonically.

Opener My Lighthouse continues as normal, with O’Brien’s easily identifiable finger-picking, before Earthly Pleasure bursts in with a juddering, electronic approach, with lines skipping back on themselves and stuttering to make their points. Lead single Waves sounds like it’s dominated by Morse code, verging on a field recording at points, before exploding at its close. But it’s when Villagers are at their most pure – be it on the brilliant chamber pop of Northing Arrived or the pure, instrumental pastoral of the title track – that {Awayland} is strongest; as opposed to when it’s trying to outsource itself to stylistic whimsy or fad.

O’Brien’s voice may dominate too much for some listeners (the timbre can charm, but also grate when lyrical lines are longer; better are the shorter bursts on Grateful Song, for instance) but, essentially, this is a man following his muse, be it childhood, fantasy, or recent ecological tragedy in Japan. Engrossing stuff.

3 stars 3 stars 3 stars

Domino | WIGCD 294 (CD / LP)

Reviewed by Jake Kennedy
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