Conor J. O'Brien is a fine song writer. No doubt about it. Villagers' 2010
album 'Becoming A Jackal' was a quietly menacing and thoroughly engrossing
affair. The kind of stuff which gave you the shivers in a very nice way.
Their new release 'Awayland' opens up a few new avenues. The sound, though
still substantially acoustic in nature, has thickened and gained in complexity
without losing any of its immediacy and appeal. Take 'Earthly Pleasure', for
example, a dense brew of crashing guitar, brutal percussion and shivering
strings, together with the kind of memorable chorus which has you reaching
for the repeat button the moment it's over; or perhaps the almost jaunty 'The
Waves' with its energetic quasi-caribbean rhythms and the superb 'Grateful
Song', with its uplifting sense of breadth and drama, to witness the artistic
development of an artist firing on all six creative cylinders. There are some
wonderfully simple moments too : 'In A Newfound Land You Are Free' is the kind
of song which you'll be drawn back to again and again for its gorgeous melody
and perfectly focused piano accompaniment and restrained vocal performance.
So early on in the New Year Villagers may well have delivered one of 2013's
musical highlights. It fully deserves our undivided attention and applause.