by / January 7th, 2013 /

Villagers – {Awayland}

 1/5 Rating

(Domino)

There has always been a literary quality to the music of Villagers; amorphous and ever shifting but wholly engulfing parts of 2010’s debut album, Becoming A Jackal and this follow up. However, the Malahide troupe have evolved beyond Jackal, the Gothic melodrama of ‘I Saw the Dead’ and the brooding romanticism of ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’; {Awayland} finds them favouring something a little more dense and ultimately rewarding as a result.

The threat of unrest hangs over images of trees, birds and the sea, which provide a strong, ambient presence throughout {Awayland}. And as human fortunes fluctuate, sometimes wildly, sights such as that of the sequoia tree on ‘Passing a Message’ are inevitable and reassuring. These twin themes of nature and unrest have consumed the mind of Conor O’Brien and counteract one another across his band’s second album.

Opener ‘My Lighthouse’ is macabre yet hymnal and characterises the night as violent but filled with carnal pleasures to be sought out. Whereas ‘In A New Found Land, You Are Free’ contrasts the apprehension of O’Brien’s first-time father against the unknowing horror of his newborn infant with “the eyes of a saint and the soul of a thief.” The perpetual ramble of ‘Earthly Pleasure’ pushes that unrest to the fore, while ushering one man from his toilet seat, to the nineteenth century, and then an audience with a bored, ginger tea-drinking queen in an impressive display of lyrical ambition. “Lucifer is in our court; Beelzebub is in our banks,” O’Brien proclaims as his musical backing transitions from churning to all-consuming pandemonium.

Single ‘The Waves’ sees O’Brien’s twin themes combine and elaborates upon ‘Earthly Pleasure’s’ hellish indignation. Though initially musically meek, with strains of acoustic guitar filtering in between plinking, house-like piano notes, it builds to a horn-laden crescendo that calls out society’s parasites on the back of a powerful tidal metaphor – “And if you don’t agree, you better get back inside your cave / Cos we’re all dancing with the waves.” He could be addressing bankers, politicians, maybe even religion; but it doesn’t matter; it is stirring nonetheless.

{Awayland} is largely testament to O’Brien’s flourishing taste for dexterous lyricism, that finds him exploring a full range of emotions, but such versatility is allowed to stand out against an untroubling background of guitars and pianos. There are forays into experimentation, or at least musical variance, but nothing as pronounced as the Krautrock outro to Becoming A Jackal’s ‘Ship Of Promises’.

The album is, by turns, lush, manic, traditional and languid, but Villagers fail to upstage or even rival O’Brien’s words, and when he doesn’t deliver it can be an unmemorable listen, with songs such as ‘The Bell’ and ‘Grateful Song’ coming to less than the sum of their parts. Yet Villagers are all the better for their leader’s maturation. His decision to do away with archaic pretense – for the most part – in favour of modern phrasing makes them all the more relevant to 2013, even if they refuse to assimilate to contemporary taste. “I waited for nothing and nothing arrived,” goes the storming ‘Nothing Arrived’, showing a bit of Beckettian fatalism to go with ‘Earthly Pleasure’s’ Dickensian sprawl and persistent symbolism of nature. Villagers are as book-smart as ever, but they’re learning to use their intelligence in new and dazzling ways.

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