Young Dubliner Conor J. O'Brien or as he likes to call himself, Villagers, is the mastermind behind the 11 varied, subtle, complex and plain gorgeous songs that are Becoming A Jackal
. Conor plays all the instruments (except strings and french horn) and Becoming A Jackal
was recorded in Villagers home studio, with Tommy McLaughlin engineering and co-producing alongside Conor. Becoming A Jackal
is a startling intro to the gripping poetry and melodic depth of Conor J. O'Brien.
There's a bewitching, precocious charm about Conor O'Brien's debut album as Villagers. Having served his indie rock apprenticeship with angular guitar slingers, The Immediate, the Dubliner's solo offering is a different beast altogether and exudes an aura of maturity that belies his tender age.
At its core, Becoming a Jackal is an album of childhood fantasia, the inevitable changes that come with growing up and the environment in which this is experienced. Opener, I Saw the Dead, is sumptuously arranged evoking the bucolic splendour of O'Brian's home town, Dun Laoghaire, as well as Sub Pop's forgotten orch-pop nearly-star, Eric Matthews. The title-track displays the same feral, bottle-up-and-explode angst that typified Elliott Smith's clenched teeth missives: "When I got older, when I grew bolder, out on to the streets I flew". At odds with O'Brian's often disconcerting Gothic lyricism is the album's sonic tenor. Tracks like Ship of Promises and That Day romp by with a spectral sense of urgency as O'Brian sings on the former, "it takes you in and scrubs you clean, sanitises every dream", referring to his youthful church experiences; whilst the latter concerns the grim, unspoken "midnight fears" that pollute a relationship. Elsewhere, so affecting is Set the Tigers Free's saccharine shuffle and its tenderness near tangible that surely Roddy Frame would be jealous.
Becoming a Jackal clocks in at less than three-quarters of an hour but it feels longer, and this is one of the album's few flaws. O'Brien's earnest warbling has all the seriousness befitting a young man with the weight of the world upon his invariably frail shoulders, which can grate in one sitting. The dearth of any light amidst the swathes of shade reaches its nadir on Pieces, a maudlin waltz about as endearing as the type of music played at a wedding reception's twilight hour, wherein O'Brian howls–literally–at the song's conclusion.
Admittedly, such callow behaviour is a rarity here and we can forgive a young man for labouring the point. For the most part, this is a fine debut and speaks of even finer things to come. --Rich Hanscomb
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