Music Reviews

Villagers {Awayland}

(Domino) Rating - 6/10

It might be easy, listening to {Awayland}, to forget that Villagers’ eponymous debut was a slant-folk record; leaving the door ajar for you to discover its cracks and shades. The delicate abstract shapes of Becoming A Jackal had an unfamiliar tinge, magnetizing the audience towards Conor O’Brien’s distressed lullabies. Villagers as O’Brien’s moniker are somewhat different however to what now exists as Villagers, the band. Subsequently, the sound can take stratospheric digressions into an orchestral collection of dissonant timbres. O’Brien’s discordant ideologies dissolve into this sound, leaving something behind; moving forward with experimentation beyond his lilting past but carrying with him a disconnected uneasiness.

Directing the spotlight away from O’Brien with swathes of surgically produced instrumentation claws {Awayland} from the brink of clichéd implosion. In A Newfound Land You Are Free exemplifies his partiality for sombre ballads that seem to add nothing to what is an otherwise diverse palette of sound. There is a definite strike for a creative, experimental and forward thinking use of sound; sampling electronic rhythms, static noise tension (Earthly Pleasure) and the fading squarks of a dying animal (Rhythm Composer).

We can sense some deliberate and considered ambition to avoid cliché in the fractured background, with sub-plots of paranoia that mirror the disconnection in the lyrics. Rather than vastly overworked crescendo, Villagers play with tension, breaking it and lowering intensity at seminal moments. There’s a connection between the music and the ideology of form; we can feel the attritional movement of waves towards something finite and ultimate, that subsequently never materializes (Nothing Arrived). Villagers are conscious not to allow complete ease of listening, using schizophrenic stereo play of Earthly Pleasure and The Waves to unsettle. And there are moments, notably My Lighthouse, when even the pleasing simplicity of harmonies show a creative impulse diversifying through three octaves and tempting us into the precious moment.

Villagers almost produced an album here which would have been astonishing. At its most bold and creative moments {Awayland} transcends any expectation of what Villagers can be. They have, in places, transported their folk jaunts into an electronic age, and that conflict is the most fascinating aspect. The distress of how folk exists in an electronic age, enveloping the listener with unlikely combinations of natural and artificial; placing the two colours in the same space and allowing them to bleed together into an original hue.

The disappointments are essentially regret. That when there’s opportunity to expand the experimental bubble further, they turn inwards and revert back to what is comfortable. The lilt, the lament, the lullaby: the cliché. Despite what they wholeheartedly proclaim at the inception of the record and what they consciously avoid on the likes of The Waves; overcoming the multitude of interesting possibilities, is indulgence of uninteresting, singer-songwriter ballads, with O’Brien alone in sharp focus. Villagers ought to be applauded for their ambition to heave themselves away from expectation, and then mourned for their lack of conviction which discards them back into it.