Villagers - The Art of Pretending to Swim - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Villagers - The Art of Pretending to Swim

by Nathan Fidler Rating:7 Release Date:2018-09-21
Villagers - The Art of Pretending to Swim
Villagers - The Art of Pretending to Swim

Returning to Villagers is like visiting a friend by the coast, being welcomed to the fire after a brisk walk among the dunes in the autumn air. Conor O’Brien, now 34 years old, is onto a fourth album, The Art of Pretending to Swim, but if their debut was a nervous doggy paddle, this album is a smooth, confident backstroke staring up at the ceiling.

The key to this album is the space given to the air in songs; nothing feels overcrowded or rushed. On initial listens, this might make the album feel slow and ponderous, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with the warmth and atmosphere each track has.

Whether it’s the short rest between each gulp of the bass on the lead single ‘A Trick of the Light’, or the pacing of the lyrics in opener ‘Again’, the onus is on you to soak up the sounds.

There is also a more confident application of looping electronic sounds on this album, more deftly applied than on {Awayland}. ‘Love Came With All That It Brings’ has a nervous loop which lends the track a meditative feeling, later expanding into something more concrete and operatic, backed by a full gamut of horns. ‘Real Go-Getter’ plays with that style some more, in futuristic whips and vibrations, but doesn't - ironically - get going as much.

The lightness of touch which comes in the instrumentation is helped by a similar approach to the lyrics. This can be a positive on tracks like ‘Again’ and ‘Ada’, but several tracks suffer from O’Brien holding back - things here will be far less easy to hum along to in comparison with songs on; previous albums. That said, lyrically he has lost none of his poetic qualities; ‘Hold Me Down’ has the feeling of religious grace as he half-whispers at you “Hold me down ‘til your body spills into my soul”.

‘Sweet Saviour’ has a gently howling moan in the background, before plunging organ chords enliven the acoustic guitar. But it’s the ability to take what could be a mundane and relaxed track and elevate it with a sense of urgency which makes O’Brien one of the best singer-songwriter acts out there now. As he sweetly, desperately sings “I’ve been loving you now for what feels like eternity, sweet saviour don’t do this to me”, it’s hard not to love what he’s doing.

A more explorative and exotic album next time could help move Villagers up into that special bracket of bands who can pretty much do no wrong, and O’Brien undoubtedly has the talent to pull it off. For now though, it seems he’s content to muse in a low but expansive orbit.

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