Villagers – Away Win

Villagers – {Awayland}

EHL – 2 months

Once again, for 43 extraordinary minutes Conor O’Brien lets us inside his sometimes weird and always wonderful head. There’s certainly enough in there to keep his psychotherapist busy. “Naked on the toilet with a tooth brush in his mouth”, he sings on ‘Earthly Pleasures’, “When he suddenly acquired an overwhelming sense of doubt, Every single piece of baggage he’d been holding on his back, Was beginning to dig-dig-dig in and-and his back began-began to crack” as the song literally breaks down. But his psychotherapist would be pleased. Rather than bottling things up, Conor knows how to express himself and beautifully at that. The temptation with a Villagers album is to read the songs as autobiography. On this reading, Conor cracks up, mainly because he’s having difficulty writing songs. “Then off goes the the bell ringing through my head”, he sings, “signifies that all’s been said”. Through doubt, and lots of misery, he comes across a newfound land and emerges as the “rhythm composer” of the final track. Well, perhaps. But if that narrative were even partly true, there would still be more to the story than anyone apart from Conor O’Brien could ever know. He might lift the lid on his world, but we can never really comprehend what is going on inside. Whatever the story, words by themselves are never enough. They have to fit with the music and here they do so beautifully. With this album the Villagers sound is much fuller. There’s a real band. What could easily have been Jackal pt. 2 becomes something new. Upbeat. Lively. Definitely not miserable or harrowing or self-indulgent. Still piano and guitar-led, there are horns, strings, some electronica, a xylophone, and host of other sounds, including a braying donkey. But nothing, even the donkey, is overstated. Everything fits together organically. And over the top of it all is Conor O’Brien’s voice, which makes the experience more transcendent still. It’s just possible that Conor O’Brien has to go through a whole bunch of stuff to deliver such magnificent albums. If so, then nobody would wish it upon him. But if it is the case, then at least we get a glimpse into the mind of a truly rare talent and with the music to match.

Villagers official website

Pitchfork review

The Quietus review

Drowned in Sound review

Nialler9 review

The Line of Best Fit review

NME review

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