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Album Review

The second album of any artist's career is always a difficult one to deliver and possibly more so if your debut reaped critical praise, a Mercury Prize nomination, and an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. This was the situation Conor J. O'Brien and his band Villagers found themselves in when writing their sophomore record, {Awayland}. The Irishman had hit a wall after two years of touring debut Becoming a Jackal and found creativity hard to come by. It was at this point that O'Brien turned his mind away from the confessional, brooding folk-pop of his first effort and purchased a synthesizer, drum machine, and sampler. Over the period of a year he taught himself to create basic electronic music that slowly evolved into the soundscapes and noises that went on to form the framework of the second record. The textures and layers that these electronic influences have created give a wonderful depth to otherwise folk-pop tracks "Judgment Call" and string-laden album ender "Rhythm Composer," while the frantic verses and melodic chorus of "Earthly Pleasure" wouldn't sound out of place on a Bright Eyes record. Album highlight "The Waves" unfolds gently from a Morse code-like bleep and eventually flourishes into the more familiar sound of horns, piano, and gently plucked guitars, until it ends in a noisy swell of feedback, crunching guitars, and synths. Another audible change is brought by the fact that O'Brien collaborated with his band for the recording of this second Villagers album. The songs feel fuller as a result, and without the burden of playing every instrument, the Irishman has concentrated his efforts into his lyrics. These are influenced by literary luminaries such as Slaughterhouse 5 author Kurt Vonnegut alongside songwriters Nick Drake and Curtis Mayfield. The creative progression O'Brien exhibits here leaves no lingering questions of doubt whether he would succumb to the dreaded second album syndrome, and regardless of awards, {Awayland} sees the Irishman at his best, both musically and lyrically.

Customer Reviews

Not as expected

Is this really the same album all the music reviewers are giving 8 and 9 out of 10 ? Feel a bit letdown - average at best.

Fantastic 2nd Album

After what seems like having their debut album in repeat for the past 2 years I was of course keen to hear their new album - lay back and listen to this masterpiece in your headphones you will not be disappointed!

4 brilliant songs does not an album make

If this was an EP comprised of only the standouts - The Waves, Nothing Arrived and Passing a Message - it'd be a hands-down 5 star gem. But accompanied by what prosaic, self-satisfying filler and at least two prosaic acoustic numbers, the end result doesn’t meet the promise. Others will disagree, but for me, whilst undoubtedly replete with endeavour, it tries just a little too hard. Why can't you just let a good song breathe, instead of tinkering, toying, and electronically prodding it into life?

Still, the immense dissapointment aside, it’s not a bad album, and the Villagers are one brilliantly talented band: let's hope the 3rd album is back up to the Jackal standards.


Formed: 2008 in Dublin, Ireland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Villagers, a solo vehicle for Irish singer/songwriter Conor J. O'Brien, specializes in atmospheric, indie folk/chamber pop that balances the youthful exuberance of contemporaries Jens Lekman, Eugene McGuinness, and Johnny Flynn with the classic rock and pop of artists like Paul Simon and Robert Wyatt. Formed in the late 2000s after the breakup of his band the Immediate, O’Brien began writing his own, solo material. A four-track EP appeared in 2009 and was performed entirely by the Irishman. He soon...
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Top Albums and Songs by Villagers

{Awayland}, Villagers
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