Record review: Villagers – Awayland (2013, LP)

Being Irish, world-weary, and more than a little handy with a folk melody will inevitably see comparisons being drawn between Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien and the likes of Damien Rice or Glen Hansard, but the Dublin quintet throw enough curve balls on this second album to keep things sounding fresh and interesting. If having their debut album nominated for a host of major industry awards brought added pressure when putting together Awayland, it certainly doesn’t show, as this is an album laced with intimacy and imagination in spades. Sounding more like a band project than a solo job this time around, proceedings start strongly with ‘My Lighthouse’; a gentle folk ballad that allows O’Brien to flaunt his tenderly poised vocals. ‘Earthly Pleasure’ follows in a similar vein before ‘The Waves’ goes off on an unexpected Kraut-rock tangent; all billowing synths and guitar fuzz, and Judgement Call sees the drums and intergalactic space noises come to the fore. ‘Nothing Arrived’ is undoubtedly the main attraction here, with its instantly-catchy Jackson Browne-esque piano melody and sunny, laid-back disposition being enough to warm even the most frigid of hearts. O’Brien and Co. have clearly drawn their influences from a wider range of places this time around, as the second half of the album has hints of electronica and even a dash of funk on ‘Passing A Message’. The glue that holds it all together is O’Brien’s voice; but the variety of sounds on show is what makes Awayland more than your average folk album. (Domino)

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