Time to get back into the flow of regular reviews again, I reckon. 'Becoming a Jackal' is the debut and only album from Irish band Villagers, a quintet fronted by Conor J. O'Brien, who's previously been involved in a similar group, The Immediate. Released last year, this eleven track record has been partial to critical acclaim, even being nominated for the Mercury Prize. It's easy to see why though, with it's haunting pop melodies and eerie folk sounds giving the album a ragged personality, trudging with noted enthusiasm.
The first, 'I Saw The Dead' is a menacing experience, with it's eerie notes and swirling melody. The drums on those five minutes are strangely tribal and ritualistic, beating along as they support the almost alien vocals, that remain high and surreal throughout. Repetition at the end leads you into a false sense of comfort before the startling finish, which ends the track perfectly, for me. The happier songs to the album include 'Becoming A Jackal', 'Ship Of Promises' and 'That Day', all of which remain jolly and decidedly more relaxed than others. Indeed, 'That Day' and 'The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)' sound to me the most poppy, or at least the ones with the most noticeable pop sensibilities. None, however, ruin the album, and their soothing nature definitely deserves a listen.
Some songs on this record though, are very beautiful, to say the least. Sure, there are upbeat tracks, but the ones that shine as truly sincere and stunningly deep are the slower ones, that throb and swell and cry, sending notes and emotions to run and tug at your heartstrings. 'The Meaning Of The Ritual' for example, retains an atmosphere gently melancholic in it's feeling. A brother has died and your village has walked to the top of a misty mountain-top where, believe it or not, a depressing understanding of the world comes to light. The lyrics to every song on the album are also fantastic, painting a vivid picture in your mind the way good music always does. 'Home's backing vocals are touching, and the bare intimacy of 'To Be Counted Among Men' makes for a thought-provoking journey that's easy to get lost in, marking it out for me, as a future folk classic.
My favourite song from this selection of eleven, however, has to be 'Pieces', which sends heartbreak down every vein of the track. The bleak high vocals break with passion in parts, with the backing piano building and building to climax in a jackal-like howl from O'Brien. Without this, his vocals could have sounded perhaps a little corny and depressed, but with the effects and eerie orchestral churning at the end, it remains playful and amazingly effective. The five minutes also have some of the greatest experimentation present on the record, which is another attribute I admire. Overall, this album has everything a good folk album should. Strong and imaginative lyrics. Passionate vocals that aren't afraid to stand alone and bleak amongst a rabble of simple guitars and pianos. It has all of these things and more, offering an immersive eeriness and wealth of sincerity that makes this record a joy to listen through over and over again. The only thing I would say is that perhaps the over sensitive feeling most of the songs emulate might make some people throw up all over it's mushiness. I however, loved that passion and am eagerly awaiting Villagers' next effort! Make sure you check them out before then though!