Ben Howard - Noonday Dream - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Ben Howard - Noonday Dream

by James Weiskittel Rating:8 Release Date:2018-06-01
Ben Howard - Noonday Dream
Ben Howard - Noonday Dream

When Ben Howard first burst onto the scene nearly a decade ago, it seemed that the singer/songwriter was poised to usher in yet another wave of contemporary folk/rock. And after tasting immediate success, few would have faulted the 2013 Brit Award winner (Best Male Solo Artist) for continuing down the well-worn path that laid before him.  But with his third LP, Noonday Dream, Ben Howard has managed to erase any last hints of the sea-soaked troubadour that wowed critics with 2011’s double-platinum Every Kingdom.

Opting to produce himself this time around, Noonday Dream bears all of the hallmarks that one would associate with a tortured labor of love.  The contemplative “Nica Libres At Dusk” is an incredibly effective album-opener.  Howard, whose weathered voice bears little resemblance to the youthful croon that propelled his earlier outings, delivers near-monotone vocals over surging guitar vamps, allowing only the faintest hints of melody to creep in and punctuate the song’s choruses.

Elsewhere, the seven-minute epic “A Boat To An Island On A Wall” and the nebulous “What The Moon Does” find Howard furthering his exploration of the electric guitar as a means to create texture.  The record’s more upbeat, ‘in-the-pocket’ moments (“Someone In The Doorway”, “The Defeat”) add a tangible sense of structure to what is an otherwise dense, and at times, excessive album. Howard’s use of percussive, effects-laden playing is put on full display with the brilliant “There’s Your Man”, while the album-closing “Murmurations” features one of Howard’s cleanest vocals set against a backdrop of washed out soundscapes and sparse drums.

If Howard’s second album I Forget Where We Were straddled the line between his folk roots and Eno-esque soundscapes, then Noonday Dream finds the thirty-one-year-old artist completing embracing the later while all but abandoning the former.   The record is easily characterized as a droning, long-form, self-indulgent collection of songs; which will surely elicit both feelings of dissatisfaction and fascination.  Irregardless, it’s in the boldness of its execution that the brilliance of Noonday Dream ultimately lies.

Rather than revisit the nostalgic sound of what many fans consider to be his defining work, Ben Howard has chosen to side-step the looming shadow of past success yet again.  And while this latest release will undoubtedly divide his fan base straight down the middle, Noonday Dream is perhaps best viewed as less a finished work, and more like the first giant step in a bold new direction.  The man is clearly already miles away from where he started.

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