The Villagers - Becoming a Jackal
Posted by Guest Writer on Tue, 01 Jun 2010.
There’s a curious nuance with the Irish accent: it can sometimes sound a bit American. (For example(s), I give you the mighty publicity machine(s) that is (/are) Jedward). Villagers’ lead, Conor O’Brien, comes from Malahide in Dublin, and so this curiosity comes out somewhat in their debut album, Becoming a Jackal. So I suppose you could compare Conor to the Grimes twins in more than one way. But that doesn’t mean we should tar Villagers with the same disdainful brush as we did Jedward.
Villagers have been at the centre of a comfortable amount of hype recently and following their performance on Later…With Jools Holland, their debut album has been eagerly awaited. Luckily, it delivers. Becoming a Jackal is, without question, a stunning record. There’s a very powerful fragility behind Conor’s vocal and attractively simple (or simply attractive) instrumentation that could, were it filled with the right people, quite easily silence a room. Actually quite dark lyrics are used to depict dreary and humdrum instances, keeping the album interesting but pleasingly grounded.
The album opener, I Saw The Dead, is, as the name suggests, somewhat eerie. A piano lead rolling in and out of minor keys, Phil Collins-esque drum beats, a howling violin and Conor’s delicate vocals – growing from almost a whisper – set the tone for the rest of the following songs. The lyrics catch you in your tracks, for example, ‘you take the torso and I’ll take the head’, and give the track an intriguing edge, immediately setting Becoming a Jackal apart from a lot of other music out there at the moment which is so very tediously similar.
Home is another noteworthy song out of the eleven. The track begins with nothing more than a simple floor-tom drum beat and 4 note motif and then slowly and carefully, layers of Conor’s voice, more instruments and more emotion are added but, at no point, is the song overcrowded. Just as soon as the volume begins to grow, it drops back, a bit like the ebb and flow of the tide, if you like. The ordinary pre-chorus line, ‘wake me when we’re almost half-way’, is most likely something that we’ve all said on a particularly long and tiresome journey, yet here it seems to have more of a subtle gravitas. It’s an elegant and mesmerising track that is unexpectedly catchy.
Naturally though, Becoming a Jackal isn’t perfect. I don’t love every track. The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever) is, to be honest, not great. My immediate thought when I heard it for the first time was that Conor was singing over the top of a demo tune that you get on a keyboard. The enchanting delicacy executed in Home and most of the other songs on the album seems to have been lost, and in its place is something that’s unfortunately bang-average. Average isn’t necessarily bad, but when placed in the midst of the majority of the other songs, it doesn’t quite compare.
Towards the end of the album is Pieces, another graceful track. When it starts, there’s a worrying few seconds when it sounds like it’s going to go the same way as The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever), but luckily it quickly changes into a hauntingly beautiful tune. Conor’s high vocals are full of tortured fragility and there’s a remarkable crumble in his composure during the song, heard clearly through the build in instrumentation, and the total breakdown in lyrics to, quite literally, howling. Which is a bit odd actually.
I’m not massively into the band name. As my mum quite rightly said, ‘it makes them sound a bit 'Village People’. They’re not, but you can see where she’s coming from. If the name doesn’t bring immediate thoughts of The Village People, it conjures up a mental image of a sleepy community somewhere in the countryside with not a lot going on when actually, Becoming a Jackal is a lot more exciting than that. Conor said, speaking about the band moniker, ‘I like it because the name doesn’t offend the songs’. And I suppose he is right; bland doesn’t really offend anything.
It’s very refreshing to hear an album that has space. None of the songs are too overcrowded, and there’s not so much going on that it feels like a musical ambush; it’s comfortable, but with a delicate edge to stop it from becoming boring. I reckon it’s a 4/5. I’d love to give it 5/5, but sadly tracks like The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever), and Twenty Seven Strangers (a song about a bus breaking down. No joke.) are just too forgettable. Regardless though, Becoming a Jackal is a rare pocket of brilliance that should not be passed up or overlooked.