As part of our own look at the Mercury music prize nomination I have picked this album up to review and cast my eye over. Formed in 2008 by Connor O'Brien after the breakup of his last band, these guys have had a sort of life of riley type of existence. By looking at their history they have just been going from strength to strength in some way. I have also been informed that their first album was nominated for a Mercury music prize as well. So, second time at the Mercury table and they seem to have the world at their feet - in the words of many a man who is going into a fight - let's do this!
Musically this is trying to do a few things, it is primarily a new take on the classic folk album with a modern twist, there is moments of passion and energy, such as on "Nothing Arrived" with its piano lead intro and slow rock guitar entrance, it is a pleasant song, as it is sax driven "The Bell" (which was missing the name sake instrument - The Bell). According to the modern music press, the villagers deal with dark and twisted lyrics. In folk music this is a given, but I find nothing twisted about the words on this at all. "Earthly Pleasure" about the man's inner thoughts and about being in the past is something that would pale and hide its tail between its legs when faced with a Nick Cave lyric – not a whole song, just one lyric. I am finding it hard to find a stand out track, many because there is no real standout track. It is a collection of nice numbers - I cannot fault the work of "The Waves" or "Grateful Song" - but by the time you arrive at "Rhythm Composer" it does not matter much as there is nothing that is making you want to go back to the album again. The production job is really good, but I feel like this is a bit too bland, a bit too safe and about as dark as a flash light turned on in the middle of the afternoon around spring time, in the UK during a sunny period.
Now I find this a little bit strange to be honest, it wants to be a few things - it wants to be a folk album, it wants to be an indie rock album, it wants to be an acoustic album to break your heart - but whilst it does all of these well, if the album concentrated a little more on one thing, it would be a much better album. Actually, that has just nailed it on the head what has been bugging me about this album. Their aims are to try and be like a different take on The Bad Seeds with a hint of Vampire Weekend and Elbow, and doing neither of these things. Those bands stand out because they are doing their own thing and they are not trying to mix up what they are doing. This is only the band's second album and both have been nominated for awards, but I am struggling to see how this can be the case. Either the British music scene is awfully short of original bands (I know this is not the case), the band or their management know friends in high places (probably the case) or the sheep are leading the pack. Confusing, slightly dull but produced well enough.
4 out of ten - Well it is alright, but still......
You can purchase from Amazon here
You can visit the Villagers website here
You can listen to the deluxe version of the album here on Spotify
Here is a link to the video for "Nothing Arrived"