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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 5 February 2016
One great track along with lots of lesser songs...
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on 1 July 2015
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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.

Highly Recommended.
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on 10 February 2013
Over the first few listens Awayland has grown from a strong 3-4 stars to an absolutely guaranteed 5. Like all great albums it has hidden depths and guarantees longevity by unveiling itself over several listens. As the title suggests, seeing this performed live at the Leadmill in Sheffiled on Friday enhanced my enjoyment of a superb and varied collection of songs. I really believe this should go one further than Becoming a Jackal and win the Mercury music prize.
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on 6 November 2016
Somehow different & a very interesting album.
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VINE VOICEon 18 January 2013
I was only slightly persuaded that the Villagers were any good by the first album. I really enjoyed Ship of Fools & Becoming a Jackal & The Meaning of the Ritual, but thought the album as a whole lacked a bit of heart & soul.

I was subsequently knocked out by a performance at the Borderline in London, the songs sounded alive. Plus we got to hear much of this new collection - most of which sounded wonderful.

Now I have the CD, and it mostly is wonderful. The songwriting is assured, the melodies are naggingly good and the playing is great. I still think there is a lack of something soulful herein, but have no doubt that Conor O'Brien is making his way slowly towards creating a masterpiece. He certainly has the talent.
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Sophomore albums are legendary for the often negative and corrosive effect that they can have. This is particularly the case for artists who have shown massive promise on their debuts and yet stumble on tracks that are often thrown together in haste usually touring their first set of songs to the point of nausea. What great news it is, therefore, to report that Villagers have realised their status as a band to watch to one that must now be viewed as the main contender. In particular, it represents a triumph for its driving force the huge songwriting talent of Conor J O'Brien who has absolutely nailed it to the post and laid a challenge to all comers this new year. 2010's "Becoming a Jackal" was lauded with praise and conjured up echoes of great songwriters like Ed Harcourt, Conor Oberst and Paddy McAloon raising Irish hopes in musical terms that there might just be another "anointed one" like Damien Rice who can take the wider world by storm. O'Brien, however, is from a different mold to the latter and his vivid narratives, gripping poetry and melodic depth are deepened on this excellent album "{Awayland}" which can be confidentially predicted will again demand the rapt attention of the Ivor Novello award panel.

O'Brien has taken his time and navigated through a period racked with self-doubt and worries that he might be a "fraud" which led him to explore a wider musical palette to infuse his songs with more depth and greater layers of instrumentation beyond the guitar. His first song released from the album last year "The Waves" returns to the sea (a key theme of Jackal) but introduces lush electronic soundscapes and his distinctly intimately vocal style. It builds to a huge conclusion and marks a calling card which screams out his determination not to stand still. Opening song "My Lighthouse" is more like the music contained on his debut and a real beauty of an almost spoken ballad which is a fine start. However you sense that {Awayland} is much more of a band album not least on songs infused with the sharp and powering guitar riffs of Tommy McLaughlin such as album standout "Earthly Pleasures", It starts with the brilliant opening line that articulates what may be O'Brien's own insecurity "naked on the toilet with a toothbrush in his mouth, when he suddenly acquired an overwhelming sense of doubt". Throughout O'Brien's lyrics are first class nowhere more than on the five minute plus "The Bell" where the band throw in Western sounding guitars and almost Bond-like musical motifs. On the pounding piano lament "Nothing Arrived" O" Brien produces a song which Michael Stipe would die to have written, showing again that two albums in he already touching the musical greats.

Other songs complete an album which is a filler-free zone. "Passing a message" is dark and threatening yet completely absorbing, while "In the Newfound land you are free" shifts down a number of gears to almost echo Tom Waits but with an aching melody that will pay dividends on repeated listens. The whole thing is rounded off by the funky "Rhythm composer" packed with humour (is that a donkey at 4.30?), swirling strings and jaunty drums so far removed from anything on "Jackal" that it could be a different artist. In the final reckoning {Awayland} is a book smart album written by someone who is not afraid to be clever or to expand his already dazzling wordplay further. Villagers tour in February and until then this is a must have record full of twisted torch songs and off-kilter​ creativity will provide fulsome satisfaction.
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on 22 February 2013
This is a spellbinding collection of songs from the brilliant mind of Conor O'Brian, translated into an ever evolving collection by his collaborators. This support and depth makes Awayland an engaging listen, perhaps more so than the introspective debut, Becoming a Jackal.
Far from his initial wonderings backed by little more than an acoustic guitar, seeing O'Brian and Co. live demonstrates the diversity and perspective of this record- never before has the energy of the record, particularly on tracks such as The Bell and the masterful Earthly Pleasure, been so clearly conveyed. The wider spread of influences goes to make this not only the strongest set of songs O'Brian has ever assembled, but perhaps the strongest that any act has this year. Rereshing and engaging, Awayland never ceases to amaze.
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on 14 February 2013
I first became acquainted with Villagers in mid-2011 and was lucky enough to see them perform in Placa del Rei in Barcelona in September of that year - and coincidentally I'm off to see them again tonight in the less glamorous surroundings of the old Digbeth Institute in Birmingham - well it is St. Valentine's Day.

I bought this album a couple of days after it was released and had mixed feelings at first. i've played it a lot since and have reconciled some of my differences and have finally accepted that "The Waves" is a rather good song (I didn't enjoy it at all at first) and "Nothing Arrived" is one of those tunes that you know upon first hearing that you will love for years, but I just feel that several of the tracks seem to be filler to make the album long enough. "Judgement Call" is a case in point. It seems to lack the finesse of so many of the songs on "Becoming a Jackal" and doesn't really go anywhere. I find myself reaching for the skip button. Too many of the tracks seem insubstantial and unmemorable. I've been listening to the two albums back to back in the car for a couple of weeks and can't help thinking that "{Awayland}" only achieves the high standards of the first album a few times.

If you're already a fan, then you've probably already got both, so why are you reading this review? If you're just discovering Villagers then my advice would be to listen to "Becoming a Jackal" first and give "{Awayland}" a try when you're convinced.
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on 21 May 2013
I originally brought the album because I love the track the 'Bell' which had been getting lots of airplay on radio six. With a couple of plays of each side I now love it all! It is just so well crafted.
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