Villagers: {Awayland}

(Domino Records)

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In 2010, Irish band Villagers burst onto the international scene with the haunting, mysterious, and howling Becoming a Jackal. Frontman Conor O’Brien’s tremulous voice suits his vulnerable lyrics, which are strong enough to have won an Ivor Novello Award.

Three years on, the group has evolved into a stronger entity. {Awayland} is somehow more confident in its frailty, feeling like a solid album with overarching themes. This is so rarely done anymore in music without feeling like a gimmick, and nothing about {Awayland} feels forced. Instead it’s as artful as poetry set to a soundtrack.

For instance, the image of a dog appears repeatedly to stand in for the wild nature and companionship of language. “There is a dog/under this dialogue/obedient only to rhyme,” O’Brien declares on “The Bell,” whereas on “Rhythm Composer,” the dog can either be a controlling depression or a creative boon (“That old black dog is on your back/and if you can tame it, you can get it to sit/so don’t mind it”).

Other images of nature abound, particularly around a beach (such as on “The Waves” and “My Lighthouse”). Additionally, the characters that appear, whether from O’Brien’s vantage point or otherwise, are all fragmented, but carry on. There’s a sense of hope beyond the struggle, which is put best in the lyrics of “Grateful Song,” where Villagers declare they are “thankful for misery from which we stole this grateful song.”

This is not just your run-of-the-mill acoustic folk, but something more melodic, something darker, something earthy. This is one of the strongest sophomore records I can remember, and only greater things lie ahead for Villagers.

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About Casey Hicks

Casey Hicks toils her daylight hours away in an office high above Manhattan in order to afford nights of passionately scribbling. The first song she remembers ever hearing is "Lola" by the Kinks. She thinks this explains a lot.
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