Folk music has always been a genre that I’ve had somewhat of a hard time with… Good folk bands have come and gone into my world over the past 10 or so years with varying degrees of success.. Bands like Fleet Foxes and Monsters Of Folk helped shape me into the avid lover of all things music that I am today.. But to be completely honest, I’ve never considered any bands that belong to the genre to be in my personal Top 10.. Maybe besides Neil Young.. But he’s in a league of his own..
Moving on from the fact that I’ve never been completely enamoured with folk music, I’d have to say that I found myself to be quite surprised with what Villagers had to offer after hearing several tracks from their latest album Awayland.. It was after hearing these few songs through local radio and YouTube that I found myself compelled to listen to the album in full… What happened next was a mixture of both ups and downs… An album that has some truly great moments.. But never quite manages to achieve the greatness that it could have.. Despite the few tracks I did like, I found myself both happy and confused after spending the last week listening to Awayland.. It’s just one of those albums that really could have been something more.. I know it’ll most likely get a lot of praise (and I can see that it already has) but for some reason it just really didn’t strike as big of a chord with me as I hoped it could have…
Awayland begins with My Lighthouse.. A track that features the bands frontman Conor O’brien and nothing more than his acoustic guitar intertwining together to build continually into the tracks eventual climax and end.. I found this track to be quite a serviceable intro to the album.. I also found it to be one of the most confusing moments that I had with Awayland.. For anyone out there that hasn’t heard of Villagers yet I’d imagine that if you were to listen to the first track from the album that you’d most likely think that you were listening to just about any other folk album out there.. This is not the case as I discovered once the first track had finished.. Villagers seem to be something quite different to that.. And that’s what made me feel so incredibly confused whilst listening to this album..
Directly after the albums intro track I was met with Earthly Pleasure.. A song that plays out so radically different to the albums intro that I almost had to second guess myself as to whether I was listening to the same album that I had begun with.. Earthly Pleasure starts out with a simple acoustic guitar that’s swiftly accompanied by front man Conor O’briens very well-timed and well written vocals.. Wow I thought.. This is different… And great.. The track continues to build both musically and lyrically until we’re left with just Conor and his guitar to end proceedings.. This is the precise moment that I thought to myself that I’d perhaps stumbled upon something really quite different and special…
Moving on from the refreshingly different Earthly Pleasure the band moves into The Waves which continues to show off the same kind of musical experimentation that’s rarely seen in folk music.. Beginning with only a soft drum machine beat and Conor’s equally timid vocals The Waves takes a little time to get itself warmed up.. But by the tracks end I was almost having to pick my jaw up from the ground.. I found myself so impressed with the way that this track seems to build to such a huge crescendo by the time it’s over.. Heavy guitars crossed with a reverberating electronic backing beat really came as a big surprise to me the first time I listened to it.. This isn’t your daddy’s folk album.. Or is it?
Continuing from the 1/2 punch that manifested itself in Earthly Pleasure and The Waves, O’brien and crew shift over to the slightly more radio friendly Judgement Call.. A perfectly acceptable pop song that’s here nor there.. Whilst it’s catchy and easy to sing along to, it just didn’t feel as great as the two tracks that preceded it.. Which brings me to Nothing Arrived which plants the band far closer to their folk roots than the previous three tracks on the album.. Taken as a traditional folk song this is actually a great track and is definitely one of the better traditional folk songs on offer here..
Shedding away the last two tracks Villagers shift back into interesting territory with The Bell which for all intents and purposes begins like the intro to a Spaghetti Western flick… Simple drums, Twangy guitar lines, Pianos, Horn sections and organs build into something that could easily have been a precursor to Muse’s classic Knights of Cydonia.. After the songs intro things are stripped back to showcase O’brien’s panache for simple yet effective song writing.. It really does show a band that’s keen to experiment can also write songs that stick with you by taking a step back every now and then.. I like it..
I’ve always found it to be a great feeling when an album builds upon itself and grabs the listener by the ears and brain whether they like it or not.. Great albums that start out with a whisper and build to the inevitable but exciting end are really somewhat of a rarity these days.. Unfortunately I found that Awayland suffers from something that I’d like to label as Rollercoaster Syndrome.. By the time that I had hit the half-way point of this album I was left clamouring for more of what I’d experienced in the majority of the albums first half.. Awayland, the album’s title track marks the beginning of albums back half and is nothing more than an instrumental track that seemed more out-of-place than anything..
Passing A Message continues on with just a hint of the wacky and wild vibe that was presented in some of the albums earlier songs.. Grateful Song also seems quite out-of-place considering the other work that’d been laid down before it… There was just something about this song that didn’t quite feel right to me when comparing it to the rest of the album..
And finally there’s the albums closing track.. Rhythm Composer.. which has to be one of the most cringe-worthy songs that I’ve heard from any band in recent memory.. I’m not sure if I came into this album expecting to be blown away or not.. But I have to say that Awayland has really left me with a strange taste in my mouth… On one hand it has strong offerings in tracks like Earthly Pleasure, The Waves and The Bell which appear in the first half of the album.. Unfortunately, just about everything else that follows on from these standouts just doesn’t seem to fit what I was expecting from Awayland.. And this is where the dreaded Rollercoaster Syndrome rears its ugly head.. I really did feel as though the album started slowly… Ascended to a new and unexpected height.. And just as quickly as it hit its peak, it descended into the madness that is Rhythm Composer..
Gripes aside, Awayland really isn’t that bad.. It definitely has its standout moments.. Unfortunately there just weren’t enough of them in the latter half of the album to really keep my attention.. I’d definitely recommend that you check this album out if you’re a fan of any kind of folk music.. And even if you appreciate some softer electronic music.. There’s definitely some subtle electronic influences that I think play out really well here.. Give it a spin if you’re interested in hearing something that sounds new and familiar at the same time..
Now.. On a lighter note.. I’d really like to hear what you guys think on this one.. Since writing this review I’ve had a look around to see what others thought and they seemed to have really liked it.. Am I wrong? Do you think I was maybe a little too hard on this one? Leave a comment below! And as always, Thanks for reading!
Please don’t forget to check out Villagers at any of their official pages below..