I love Ben Howard’s music. His debut album, Every Kingdom, was magical and vivid and atmospheric. His soft voice brimmed with feeling; it was uplifting – literally – it carried you far from the present moment, soaring through the beautiful world the lyrics beguiled into being.
I Forget Where We Were is very different in tone and emphasis, though no less accomplished. This time, the songs’ focal point is downwards, sinking through dark, reverberating strings; the choruses expanding outwards rather than up, weighted down, perhaps, by the predominant emotion of the record: grief.
It is, without a shadow of doubt, built on loss and heartbreak. From the single ‘End of the Affair’: “Living without her / Living at all / Seems to slow me down / Living forever / Hell, I don’t know / Do I care, do I care?” to highlight of the album ‘In Dreams’ with refrain, “I live alone now, I live alone in life without you here” the lyrics tell of being trapped in loneliness, and of a disillusionment with the heady summersaulting happiness of Every Kingdom.
You can hear traces of the Ben Howard of old in stand-out tracks ‘She Treats Me Well’ and ‘Let’s Go Dancing’, but here too, the enmeshing harmonies echo with a forlorn weariness. The familiar acoustic deftness at the forefront of ‘In Dreams’ is enveloped by lo-fi electric guitar notes in title track ‘I Forget Where We Were’ and desperate finale ‘All Is Now Harmed’.
But the highlight for me is opening track ‘Small Things’ for its hollow but resounding start, withheld at first, filled with air and darkness, but by the end reaching a faster, unyielding plateau of relentless and rippling noise. While equally worth a mention is sleepy and mournful ‘Evergreen’ with the delicately haunting chorus: “Take me back to the catacombs / I am tempted by her love / Bluest eyes against my own skin / I’ve never been so caught up.”
On first listen I was a little unsure, my expectations naturally elevated by Every Kingdom. But after listening to each song several times, I was quickly convinced. Behind the melancholic exterior, I Forget Where We Were offers something enduring and strangely addictive, something that merits a different kind of appreciation from its predecessor, compelling you to listen again and again to try in vain to pinpoint exactly what it might be.