Awayland – Villagers – Domino Records
There’s a song on Awayland, the new record by Irish band Villagers, called ‘Nothing Arrived’. It’s a brilliant piece of dark, jangling pop music, but it sticks out on this record for all the wrong reasons.
‘Nothing Arrived’ features the following: about three chords; a great little piano line and some bare drums; a verse; a chorus. Also, the chorus features an actual chorus – a bunch of voices reinforcing the most important part of the song – and you can sing along from the first listen. It’s not that these characteristics are essential for a good song. It’s not that this makes the song understandable and easy to digest and therefore better. It’s just that, on this album, it’s the track that sounds the most developed and succinct, and the least overcomplicated. It’s one idea, well executed. It’s nothing more than it needs to be. And it sticks out because much of the rest of the album is the opposite.
Awayland is a hard record to take in; you read need to sit and study it, headphones on, to understand its peaks and troughs and follow its stories. It takes three or four listens before you start hearing melodies and motifs. But even after eight, 10, 12 listens, this album is still frustrating. There are just so many ideas: glitchy vocals cut and pasted in ‘Earthly Pleasures’, sections of ambient electronica, long verses that are more spoken than sung. Lyrically, O’Brien lacks subtlety and concision. Meaning gets lost in a whole lot of nice-sounding sentiments and metaphors. It gets to the point where, on ‘Earthly Pleasures’, any sense of climax that might be achieved at the chorus is shot down in wordplay: “Earthly pleasure/ring out/from the rigours of this road/Earthly pleasure/ring out/from the caverns of my soul.” You start to realise that ‘Nothing Arrived’ is not the cop-out, radio-friendly cut. It’s the best piece on offer.
Somewhere between the band’s vision and our headphones – amongst the beautiful and grand and complex and intriguing palette of sounds – something is lost. Over 11 songs we get several great moments – ‘The Bell’ cleverly builds and builds, holding the tension, until the final wordless vocal line; ‘My Lighthouse’, the album’s opener, is a gorgeous, three-minute hymn of finger-picked acoustic guitar – but they are hidden amongst a lot of misdirected sound and emotion. Villagers have pushed themselves far on this record, which is great. But they lacked the ability to reign themselves in when necessary, to bring the album together as one piece, sonically and thematically. This is a confusing album. It’s overly ambitious – and that’s its downfall.
Come and make your own mind up! Villagers play in Festsaal Kreuzberg on 27th February. We might even have some tickets to give away…keep your eyes peeled…
Review by Paul Donoughue