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Villagers - The day of the jackal
on 22 May 2010
The recent great news that BBC Radio 6 music is to be saved warmed the cockles of many a music lovers heart in the UK particularly those who seek out new and original music. Listening to the channel recently a song came on which was clearly an outright classic; a lost gem perhaps from Paddy McAloon, a new song from Andrew Bird or a neglected find from the vault of the late great Elliot Smith? As it turns out the song was "Becoming A Jackal" from Dublin songwriter Conor J O'Brien who records under the name of Villagers and whose band has recently supported those cherished dilettante's from Kendal - The Wild Beasts. As we speak this wonderful debut album sits on top of the Irish album music chart (Week ending 20th May 2010) proving yet again the impeccable musical taste of our chums across the Irish sea who we can just about make out from some parts of Wales on a good day.
Becoming a Jackal is an album bursting with O'Briens' vivid narratives, gripping poetry and melodic depth. As a debut album it oozes such confidence that O'Brien could claim this has his fifth album and not a single eyebrow would be raised. True the album gets off to a rather strange start with opener "I saw the dead" which is an ever so Gothic rolling piano ballad but which grows on repeated listened. It is followed by the already mentioned gem of a title track and other little jewels quickly follow not least the incredibly strong set of songs that compose the middle part of the album. The "Meaning of ritual" stars with a slow organ which reminds me of a James Yorkston song and builds into a delicate confessional ballad which really exposes the complete shallowness of the work of those other pretenders the Morrison's, the Merriweather's and the horrible Nutini. The pounding drums on "Home" and the tinkling piano is a tremendous foundation for one of O'Brien's best vocals and strongest set of lyrics evoking a narrative full of what Danny Carroll has noted to be "an evocative world of snakes, saints, and carnivorous scavengers". "The Pact"(I'll be your fever) is more upbeat and jaunty but brilliantly done and will surely be a live favourite, while "That day" is a completely assured pop ballad with Paul McCartney like feel and no doubt the masters inspiration has played a part. Along with "Becoming a Jackal" the other outstanding highlight is "Set the tigers free". Anyone that can can evoke the god like genius of Prefab Sprout's "Steve McQueen" era must have something going for them and the version on here ticks over beautifully in a melodic grove which has distant echoes of both "Moving the River" and "When the angels" from McAloon's masterwork. Check out in addition the equally strong version on BBC 6 sessions.
This is one of those albums which probably demands your individual attention rather than to be played collectively. It is gentle, evocative, crystalline and passionate and could happily be delivered from the corner of a smoky bar (if it wasn't banned of course). The Irish press have openly speculated that O'Brien in musical terms might just be another "anointed one" like Damien Rice who can take the wider world by storm and build on the already massively impressive musical pedigree of artists from the Emerald Isle. The evidence for such a claim is overwhelmingly set out in "Becoming a Jackal" and it is for you as the musical jury to determine the fate of this brilliant debut.