Villagers – [Album]

Monday, 14 June 2010

As anyone that suffers from chronic nightmares can tell youthere reaches a point in every dream sequence when the dreamer knows events are about to turn into something very dark, disturbing or ugly. That's when the nightmare starts. On Becoming a Jackal – Villagers' new album for Domino – that moment is where the album starts; as “I Saw The Dead” eases the record open with vibrant swirls of strings and keys and an acoustic guitar, an otherworldly sense of mania will overtake listeners and is further bolstered by singer Conor J. O'Brien's thin and worried sounding voice which will instill a sense of worry – it is as if everything is not as it should be and everything is not in its' right place and, when the track simply sputters to an abrupt stop, it does nothing to reassure anyone at all. It's quite harrowing, in fact. Then, when the lion's share of the instrumentation evaporates leaving just the singer and his guitar in the following title track, listeners won't know what to make of it but that's the gag – those listening are already well inside this experience and, as they're trying to figure out what happened, they won't notice the proverbial walls melting. When the title track ends with an abrupt halt at the words, “That's where the dream goes,” that's when listeners will catch on. In that moment, they notice that they've already been buckled in for this ride – it probably happened without them even noticing – and they know instinctively not to fight it because there is no escape; they're in and won't be out until O'Brien dismisses them.

What follows the title track is an abstract work of dream-pop that can be beautiful or mortifying depending on how you sleep at night, but is a work of escapist brilliance either way. Through songs like “Ship Of Promises,” “The Meaning of The Ritual,” “Home,” “The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)” amd “Set The Tigers Free,” classically-minded instrumentation (of both rock and orchestral disciplines) erects a set of ethereal walls upon which are projected odd sights that are fantastical to see – like waves of hellfire and venomous girls and car trouble in the middle of nowhere – and terrible cold and evil that aren't exactly there, but seem awfully close and terribly real. It's an incredible effect; paricularly coming from such an understated album.

As much as listeners keep expecting Becoming a Jackal to erupt or explode outward and give credence to their trepidation or at least present something that might warrant these feelings that it instills so well, it never does and the album just continues to simmer in the doldrums of the everyday (check out “Twenty-Seven Strangers” for a fantastic example of domestic nothingness) and occasionally simpers (“Pieces”) until it simply fades into oblivion. Some will say that the absence of a cliffhanger in the or confrontational moment in this runtime is frustrating or disappointing; after getting all worked up, to have it all be for nothing in the end seems foolish – but that's not the point. Look at it this way: on Becoming a Jackal, singer Conor O'Brien has hypnotized listeners almost from the very beginning and encouraged them to feel something. He gets his listeners engaged and showed them some beautiful things, some tender things and some worrisome things. He took listeners on that whole trip and they didn't even have to move. That is the mark of a great songwriter, but what makes O'Brien an even better one still is that he gave listeners this story from every possible view; Becoming a Jackal is terribly beautiful and fantastically terrifying all at once.



Villagers – “Becoming a Jackal” – Becoming a Jackal


Becoming a Jackal is out now on Domino Records. Buy it here on Amazon .

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