Since the release of Villagers’ first album, Becoming a Jackal, Conor O’Brien’s star has risen immensely. Villagers have found themselves at the centre of the Irish alternative scene, with two Mercury nominations under the bands belt, cementing their place as the most intriguing band in Ireland.
Their debut was a dark, baroque and almost existential outing, while their sophomore effort, Awayland, was more intricate and lyrically entangled, and the band seem set to continue in their vein of alternating sounds with the release of their upcoming Darling Arithmetic on 10th of April.
The most striking thing about this album is perhaps the promotional work that Conor O’Brien has undertaken, stating in many interviews that this was to be his most honest and personal album to date as he has decided to lift off the weight of expectations in favour of a kind of confessional.
That said, O’Brien came out to the public as gay after struggling for years with his identity as both a musician and a person. This kind of honesty flies in the face of most promotional campaigning, as O’Brien does not seek to present himself as a person of interest but rather hopes to become more than just a mouthpiece on stage, spurting out words and notes.
Villagers, being a very artsy and performance oriented band, want a more integrated sound, with sound and body presented to the audience, something that does indeed stimulate the imagination as you wonder how this may come across.
The album itself is quite austere and relaxed, at odds with the jumble of electronic infusions and lyrical illusions with which O’ Brien inundated Awayland. He decides to eschew the pressure to live up to the current trend in popular music, which sees artists create songs that are increasingly complicated, but not always enjoyable or meaningful.
David Foster Wallace once said that the thing he noticed most about his students was that they wanted to get across the idea that they were intelligent more than anything else. This is certainly something that could have been said about Villagers’ first two albums. It is when an artist finds their tone that they can relax, can begin to make music that touches fans and leaves indelible marks on the memory.
With Darling Arithmetic there is the sense that O’ Brien could fail enormously or succeed by his own right. This album could spell lift-off for a band who have consistently produced interesting music. Remember the day.