REVIEW: Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

da1Villagers soon to be released third album Darling Arithmetic was written, recorded, produced and mixed by the band’s founder and frontman, Conor O’Brien.

It is a departure from previous albums. It stays clear from the abstract. How he feels, and how you are going to feel, is laid bare.

He also stripped the songs down to the bone, which contrasts greatly with the grand landscapes of the previous album Awayland. On Darling Arithmetic the pared down sound transforms the album into a passive house. With words and instrumentation kept to a minimum, we are in a room set apart, simply furnished.

I interviewed him recently. He told me All of the songs on the album are about an area of love.” This becomes obvious right from the first stomach stroking note; you are journeyed from the joy at the start of love, right through to the bereft end of it. If you’ve ever had a relationship, you are in this album.

Let’s start with the joy. “Dawning On Me” opens with evocative guitar and drops of keyboard landing on it. The gentle train-track percussion builds the sense of feelings that are growing. O’Brien’s voice is sleepy, dreamy, and the harmonies give a hint of otherworldly. “From your lips to your belly and your knees and your feet, and the spirit that moves them, you’ve been dawning on me.”

The first single to be released from the album was the track “Courage.” With simple, unwavering guitar padded with Mellotron, this is a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ song. It’s time to move on, still, he’s “thinking of how we used to kiss.” The “how” and the “kiss” are lengthened; longed for. It reaches a stage when his voice is echoing. In this expanse of hope, it’s up to him. There is no one else can do this.

There is a very specific vocal of O’Brien’s. It’s the gentle aching howl of words sung with a note held long, and released only once it isn’t too raw. We can hear it in e.g. “Ship of Promises” on the first album Becoming a Jackal. It is present in “The Bell” on Awayland, and now it is taken to new extremes on Darling Arithmetic’s “So Naïve”. In the interview he told me “I get a huge release out of singing like that. I really like holding my voice for as long as it can go.” It makes the depth of feeling clear; this release hands those emotions over to us.

“Soul Serene” offers a sound and atmosphere that The Blue Nile would relish. The Mellotron fills the song up, offering lovely rich cello tones to underscore words like “All is not as it seems, and I find, chameleon dreams on my mind.” The instrumentation becomes haunted, but it’s your own ghosts, it’s OK. This song tells of being at peace with yourself. At last.

“Hot Scary Summer” is about the end of love. It talks of the warm memories and dried up feelings that wrap up the cold meal of a dead relationship. And in the midst of this there is another dimension.

“Remember kissing on the cobblestones/In the heat of the night/And all the pretty young homophobes/Looking out for a fight”

Homophobia is called out in Darling Arithmetic. “Hot Scary Summer” tells it as it is – a part of the relationships that O’Brien has been singing about.  He is singing his experience. But they become our songs when we hear them as listeners. The songs are written for us to fill in our own experience. To paint our own yearning, and desolation and happiness. Our own love. Once you hear them, you’ll start doing that yourself. Cara Gibney, GiggingNI.com

Click here to read our full interview with Villagers’ Conor O’Brien.