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on 14 October 2010
When you listen to a new album and it is like falling in love, spending the day thinking about when you can next listen to it. The rising flutter in your stomach, feeling sick and tingling and elated and excited all at once. The haunting melodies and darkly lyrical poetic words - the music creeps up through my flesh, crawls through my veins, settles in my elbows and knees and runs rings in my mind. Something primal, urgent and real yet simultaniously haltingly ethereal, mystical and beautiful.

This sounds like an awful lot of prentious rubbish, but it is what I actually wrote after two days of first listening to this album. A month or so on prehaps my attitude has tempered a little and some logic has crept in, but I'm not sure I wanted it to. This is by no means a flawless album, but it is one that speaks to you (it does to me at least). There are some very special moments - particularly tracks 1, 2 and 4. Though for me I think track 8 Pieces, is one of the best things I have heard this year. There should be more howling in songs in general.

There is something quite special about this album. It is also really quite unnerving.

"Before you take this song as truth, you should wonder what I'm taking from you. How I benefit from you being here, lending me your ears, while I'm selling you my fears"

I have clearly bought into Conor J Obrien's fears wholesale, but I fail to see how one cannot when he a is a purveyor of such sincerity.
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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.
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on 6 May 2010
Villagers is Conor O'Brien. I heard this round a PR person's house and scribbled the following: Blue Nile, Jeff Buckley &
Steve McQueen Prefab Sprout.

As anyone who saw him on Later will know, he has a voice and a confidence that is almost otherworldly.

The songs on this album unfold like moments of the day dissolving into dreams. Lead single Becoming a Jackal has a chorus that stays
swirling around your head for days. The kind of tune you find yourself humming without knowing where it came from.
Well it come form here, this incredibly assured debut.

At times the lyrics sound very abstract, other times very everyday. Surrounding them is some incredible shimmying music.

O'Brien's voice carries the whole thing and the record is full of unexpected twists and turns, marrying strange chord changes with his
Irish lilt.

a record to really lose yourself in.
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on 10 July 2010
I've had a habit in the last few months that has restricted my intake of new music. A copy of the Beatles anthology 3 (a truly exceptional works, it goes without saying)has been kept at all times in my car. When new albums have been brought in (including some very, very good ones such as Beach House and Shearwater's recent efforts)i've inevitably eventually thought, this is great, but i'll just listen to that take of Blackbird one more time, and then the moment for that particular new album has kind of gone. It's a bit like going to a friend's house for a dinner party but taking Raymond Blanc with you to cook your own meal if the level of satisfaction dips below an acceptable level at any given moment. This hasnt happened for the last week or so, and the reason is this incredible album from Villagers- the trading name of Mr Conor o'brien i believe. 11 tracks, not a duff moment throughout, songs that slowly burn away in your mind when you're not listening to them, making you wonder "where did i hear that piano sequence?" before realising ,no, it wasnt on the Beatles anthology, it was on Becoming a Jackal. TBA3 has been removed from the "glove box". This is my new bench mark of song writing genius for 2010. Simply sublime.
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on 28 January 2011
For those of you that don't know, this isn't Conor O'Brien's first foray into music, his previous project "The Immediate", an Indie rock band that was met with limit success outside the UK and Ireland, which split up in 2007. Conor O'Brien is clearly an exceptional talent, every track is written and every instrument except for some Brass sections is preformed by him also. Becoming a Jackal is a wistful and gentle record with some suspense fired in for good measure. The opening track "I Saw the Dead", a dark, brooding opener with a melodic gentle piano section that builds up with suspense to match the dark lyrics to end with a loud thump, with its intent to shock the listener into the imaging the outcome of the story being told through the song. The radio hit "Becoming a Jackal" is next up with its Simon and Garfunkal inspired harmonies and chorus'. The next few song's add to the spiritual and emotional theme of the album. "Home" appeals for its honesty and simplicity, while "That Day" another radio hit here in Ireland exposes the qualities of O'Breins voice. "Set the Tigers Free", is probably the most upbeat and my personal favorite on the record. The last three tracks continue with the proven formula of the beginning of the record, of sobriety and beauty. Technically 'Becoming A Jackal" is probably not the best record of 2010, but it's polished production coupled with honest, hidden beauty of Conor's lyrics and instrumentation make it one of my favourite.
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Conor J O'Brien is from Ireland and in his incarnation as Villagers he
opens doors into dark existential landscapes which, however elusive,
surreal and ofttimes macabre, manage to seep in under the skin and
take up residence, however uncomfortably, in our imagination.

He is a talented and prodigious musician who plays all the instruments
on the album with the exception of the french horn and strings provided
by the London Ensemble. 'Becoming A Jackal' is an extraordinary creation.

There are eleven songs in the collection. The melodic and rhythmic
structure of Mr O'Brien's musical inventions are wonderfully elusive
and stylistically difficult to pin down and therein lays much of its magic.

The album catapults us directly into nightmare with the chilling opening
track 'I Saw The Dead'. The icy piano and strings and insistent percussion
frames a set of terrifying lyrics which explore some very sinister corners
of the human psyche. Cadavers, cannibalism and moral corruption
combine in a Grand Guignol tour de force. Not for the faint hearted!

Despite its somewhat jaunty arrangement, title track 'Becoming A Jackal' offers
little respite. It would not be too difficult to surmise that Mr O'Brien could be a
particularly difficult individual with whom to sustain a romantic attachment!
With one eye on an unmade bed and the other gazing out of the window,
dreaming of satisfaction and sustenance of a more sanguinary kind than
mere love or lust might offer, metamorphosis of a deeply unpleasant kind
seems only moments away! (This Old Wolf, however, has long sustained a
distasteful view of his distant cousin's epicurean proclivities!!)

'The Meaning Of Ritual' rises out of a dirge-like introduction to reveal
yet another morbidly pessimistic view of the possibility of love.
The beautiful melody and luminous string arrangement are jarringly
at odds with the sentiments of the lyrical content. The abrupt ending
leaves us hanging by a thread with no hope of a cosy resolution.
Thrilling stuff!

Crikey! This is a man who's happy with his deeply inherent misery.
'That Day' articulates such a vivid sense of domestic emotional
disappointment and decay that Mr O'Brien almost makes us feel
that we are in the room with him as his world disintegrates!

'Pieces', with its fragile falsetto vocal performance and curious
1960's ambience takes desolation to a near-transcendent level.
(I howled along with him at the end - listen and understand!)

Final track 'To Be Counted Among Men' juggles heaven and hell,
good and evil and spiritual ambivalence with the lightest of touches.
A strangely affecting conclusion.

Call him what you will, Villagers or Conor J O'Brien, the man is onto
something here! It may not be the most easy of listens but I'll take
a little bit of this man's vision over Eurovision anyday!

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on 24 October 2010
I just happened upon Conor's performance on 'Later...With Jools Holland' and was immediately hooked. Couldn't wait for the album to come out and I wasn't disappointed once it did. No two tracks are alike and Conor has created a masterful, emotional, timeless album only made more impressive by the fact that all instruments recorded were played by the man himself. I only pray his genius has not peaked at the tender age of 27 and I honestly cannot wait to hear what he comes up with next. This album has restored my faith in the future of music.
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on 9 January 2011
I just love this album. My throat always catches and tears escape when i hear the words to Becoming A Jackal. What a gorgeous mini-world encased in the lyrics to this song. It reminds me profoundly of Johh Connolly's The Book of Dead Things (another fantastic Irishman).
The album is other-wordly and gothic-like, haunted by ghosts and spectres, memory, emotion and mood. Multi-layered, rich and deep it improves with each outing.
A much deserved short-lister for the Mercury and proof yet again that some of the finest singer songwriters, the finest musicians (check out the piano playing!) are indeed Irish.
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on 4 November 2010
This is a beautiful, well crafted album. I bought it on a whim and didn't know what to expect so have been bowled over by it. Melodic, thoughtful, with reference to other eras but with a quality of its own you can't help but like it.
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on 7 March 2012
I am not sure how I feel about music reviews. I think you either like stuff or you don't and who is anybody else to tell you otherwise.
I love this album - I think it is something quite beautiful. The songs are well written and to my ear the music is brilliantly constructed.
To the reviewer who said the writing is akin to A level I would point out that 'Becoming a Jackal' won the Ivor Novello award for best song musically and lyrically in May 2011,([...]) this is the most coveted award for singer/songwriters.

I would encourage anyone to give it a listen - the talent within it deserves it.
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