Villagers - {Awayland}

Eclectic excellence
Villagers - {Awayland}

"All I want to do is to stretch my imagination as far as it can go. I sure as hell don't want to lose any intimacy, but I need to take this intimacy into a more vibrant place,” says Conor O’Brien about  the second installment from Villagers. There’s no more perfect way to describe ‘{Awayland}’, the follow-up to 2010’s Mercury nominated ‘Becoming A Jackal’. It feels like it’s been years coming and, knowing the artistic  juices flowing through O’Brien’s veins, there  was no doubt it was going to push away from the Jackal rock while keeping attached to that close, lo-fi sound that makes Villagers so addictive.
 
This, of course, is a risk. For a band that already creates a sound a fair step away from anything else, even in its own genre, pushing boundaries can lead to obscure claptrap. Not here. ‘{Awayland}’ is just brilliant. It’s different enough from ‘Jackal’ to stand on its own and infiltrate fans of new bands and different styles, from Alt-J to Grizzly Bear, while those who already love Villagers will lap it up. It may take a couple of listens in a darkened room, but once it gets under your skin, there’s no escaping it. Take first single ‘The Waves’. It blends screeching strings with bouncing electro and some manic percussion to create a track that’s both massive and intimate while ‘Nothing  Arrived’ starts like a warped ‘Sgt. Pepper’  before twirling gracefully into a beautifully  dark but uplifting love song, reminiscent of Ed Harcourt.

‘The Bell’ is a cinematic wonder, somewhere between psychedelic pop and a Bond theme. Tickling piano sits over murmuring Hammond and Hitchcock strings before flutters of percussion roll around your head surrounded by bubbling and winding western American guitar. Amazing.

The title track, an instrumental, is like an intro on Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ accompanying you to a seaside picnic before the clouds roll in. It’s serene and atmospheric, but with a hint of sadness and despair, and the sweet and the gentle ‘Grateful Song’ merges O’Brien’s restrained vocals with crashing cymbals that leaves a wake of ‘Grandaddy’ by the end.

There’s something of ‘The White Album’ about ‘{Awayland}’, not so much in its sound, but in its creation and the way it’s been put together - the fluctuating styles and tones, creating a landscape of sound from lullaby to lunacy. “It travels through space and time and leaves you back for dinner,” says O’Brien. So true - it’s eclectic excellence.

9/10

Words by GEMMA HAMPSON

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