Album Review: Villagers – {Awayland} (Domino Records; 2013)

By COLM O'CONNOR @Colm16

Conor J. O’Brien, the man behind the Villagers, has returned to much publicity. In {Awayland}, he has crafted a different beast from 2010’s acclaimed Becoming a Jackal. This is a more radio friendly record, and is much more of a band effort, but it is no less impressive as a result.

The album opens with “My Lighthouse”, a beautiful acoustic ballad. From there on in though, the ambition to expand on the songs collaboratively is evident. O’Brien is no typical singer-songwriter – he focuses as much on craft as he does sentiment – and in {Awayland} the soundscapes the band creates are thoroughly considered complements to the lyrics. “The Waves”, the album’s first single, is a good example; the song blends drum and brass with intense electronic distortion – but the lyrics are always the cue for the change in the music.

Nothing Arrived” is another highlight, and draws comparison with O’Brien’s compatriots The Waterboys. Once again O’Brien successfully matches intellectual lyrics with a catchy tune.

The sheer variety of these 11 songs – especially in relation to his mostly acoustic debut – proves him to be a brave, experimental artist.  {Awayland} is a wonderfully sprawling, 44 minute long exploration of innocence and youth.

The title track is a welcome respite.  It is an instrumental track that punctuates a change in the album’s tone.  The remainder of the album is less distorted, less confused.  The ‘I’ in these songs has figured a few things out – in “Grateful Song,” he learns the importance of being grateful for the natural and tangible things in life – as opposed the holy: “I am grateful for your company / I am grateful to belong.

The album has been described as “deep songs for a shallow world” and O’Brien’s traditional celtic wanderlust finds him offering a distraction from the world; a vision of nature and an unspoilt wilderness.

This sophomore effort has a great appeal.  It is not Becoming a Jackal part two, but then it doesn’t try to be.  It has treasures in its content, songs which will grow on you.  In an album of escape, you won’t want to leave.

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