Five Stars

After their debut album Becoming a Jackal was nominated for the Mercury Prize, Villagers have a lot to live up to with their new album, {Awayland}. Frontman Conor O’Brien describes the new work as “diverse. It takes you on a trip through a musical landscape, as a tribute to your sense of wonder. It travels through space and time and leaves you back for dinner.” Piling on the expectation. Before listening, I was a little incredulous as to how this album could live up to what sounds like a blurb to a 90s Sci-Fi film, but I gave it a go.

The album is though, I quickly realise, incredible. It is particularly clever music, using rapidly variant keys and a myriad of instruments to create a sound that really does live up to the word ‘diverse’.  Villagers use this vast diversity of sounds brilliantly, bringing in, for example, unnerving noises like a computer disk drive rebooting and a jumping CD to enhance the meaning behind the beautiful lyrics that could otherwise go unnoticed. The second track, ‘Earthly Pleasure’, uses these sounds, typically associated with malfunction, to express the doubt and confusion of the subject of the song.

Villagers manage to tell a story with their music, conjuring the image of this ‘Awayland’, this place of fantasy and discovery. It’s the kind of album that is best appreciated lying on your bed with headphones in and eyes shut to properly follow the journey that it is taking you on, and is definitely not background music, often using discordant, almost scraping sounds to pull you back in. At times it has the vague feel of a love-child of Mumford and Sons and Bright Eyes, but honestly, Villagers have achieved what is often difficult in indie music these days: a completely individual feel.

The album seems to be an experiment that has paid off extremely well. As Conor describes, he wanted to “stretch his imagination as far as it could go”. Well, congratulations Conor. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard before; it’s fresh, experimental and lives up to the tall order of your debut reputation.