Villagers, {Awayland}

Dan Hyman

By Dan Hyman

on 04.09.13 in Reviews

Villagers, the musical outlet for troubadour Conor O’Brien, is a folk act at its core. But on 2010′s Becoming a Jackal, O’Brien drew justifiable comparisons to fellow Irishman Glen Hansard and Bright Eyes for his ability to expand outside the genre’s steel-stringed framework. With {Awayland}, O’Brien pushes these experiments further and expands this experimental bent, dabbling in lush orchestration and electronic textures. These moves occasionally yield revelations: “The Waves” elegantly detonates with guitar distortion, while “Passing a Message” climaxes with thrashing, therapeutic piano clamor.

Thriving at its most raw and unfettered

But O’Brien’s music thrives when at its most raw and unfettered. His voice, allusive and just on the right side of vulnerable, is best left to its own devices, as on the spare, harmonic “My Lighthouse” and the slow-rolling “Rhythm Composer.” The album often bows under the weight of O’Brien’s lyrical bloat (“There’s a sleeping dog under this dialog/ obedient only to rhyme/ but if I could beckon her/ if I could find the words/ all they would be is lies”). Even through misguided mouthfuls, however, the singer’s supreme knack for melody shines, acting as a much-comforting tuneful compass.