Villagers – {Awayland}

By very popular consensus, Villagers’ Mercury nominated Becoming A Jackal was a shit-hot album; sprawling yet intense, it was a work of emotional fragility constantly on the verge of breaking. Their second album retains this beauty, but bears witness to a new- and comparatively tough- confidence, swagger and style. In short, {Awayland} is a bit like the older brother of its predecessor, giving you a dead leg for taking the piss out of the vulnerable but ultimately brilliant Becoming A Jackal, despite knowing deep down that, try as he might, he will never be quite as good. It’s a story as old as ruddy time.

But this is a talented family of albums (think the Kennedys, the Freuds, the Attenboroughs etc) and {Awayland} is a very, very good record. The range of styles is refreshingly diverse; in parts electronic bleeps, in others pop-rock stadium choruses, all by way of Jeff Buckley style instrumentals and borderline funk bass lines. All of these influences for the most part make a surprisingly cohesive endeavour, and commendably so.

However, some of the tracks featured here lack the substance seen on Jackal and therein lies my minor issues. ‘Judgement Call’ is a pseudo-political, sarcastic number with lyrics reflecting people blindly following leaders and religion; noble sentiments certainly, but the lyrics are badly executed and you can’t help but feel that Villagers are preaching to the choir. Luckily, this is contrasted immediately by more concise lyrical fare on the brilliant ‘Nothing Arrived’. “I waited for something/ but something died/ so I waited for nothing/ and nothing arrived” goes the chorus, a beautifully succinct piece of pop music performed and arranged excellently. This standard continues for the most part, with the possible exceptions of ‘Passing A Message’, which feels as though it is in the wrong key for the vocals, and ‘Grateful Song’ which glumly ambles along to nowhere of any particular interest.

But with these few qualms aside, this is a great album; a unique second attempt from a band who manage the difficult task of remaining innovative without losing their identity. The diversity shown here bodes well for future records- but the refreshing consistent between the last two albums is Conor O’ Brian’s distinct vocal and Villagers’ uber-solid musicianship. The ‘difficult second album’ seems to be a phenomenon long forgotten; this is folk being brought to new heights, even if the attempts don’t always quite match the results.

Released on 14th January 2013 by Domino Recording Company