Album review - Villagers

Villagers - The Art Of Pretending To Swim (Domino)

Villager's Conor O'Brien.

Villager's Conor O'Brien.

GIVEN WE live in a post-Christian, increasingly secular, Ireland, the opening line of Villagers' new album comes as a surprise: "I've found again, the space in my heart again, for God again, in the form of art again."

'Again' is also a terrific track, beginning with gently picked acoustic guitar and birdsong, Conor O'Brien intones those lines gently, with a faint sense of awe - and it chimes with his recent admission: "I have this strong urge to believe. Call it love, togetherness, God, whatever. But you can’t argue with faith, which is a terrifying prospect! Though there’s a lot of beauty in it too.”

That sensibility runs through 'A Trick Of The Light': "It may never come, but I'm willing to wait, what can I say? I'm a man of the faith" - where faith, in whatever way you want to understand it, becomes an optimistic, encouraging, view of life. Its drawbacks are not avoided by O'Brien either, as he admits on 'Long Time Waiting': "If you believe your time is coming, but you're counting on your saviour to come, you're gonna be a long time waiting."

The Art Of Pretending To Swim is O'Brien's most experimental album since {Awayland}, but whereas the latter was often overblown and self-indulgent, ...Swim is sonically gentler, but more tightly focussed, it's mixture of synths, hip hop brass, grooves, ambient electronic atmospherics, and sampling blending well and effortlessly with the more traditional acoustic guitar, piano, and violin ('Hold Me Down' being a case in point ).

The most impressive track comes at the end. 'Ada' begins as a Air-esque swoon of balmy, psychedelic, lounge-core, revelling in its sense of majesticness, before an abrupt and thrilling segue, where an acoustic guitar figure plays out over an electronic backing not unlike Pink Floyd's 'On The Run'.

While this album may never become as loved as Becoming A Jackal or Darling Arithmetic, it will stand as one of O'Brien's bravest and most imaginative artistic achievements.

Villagers play a 'Róisín Dubh presents...' concert at the Black Box Theatre on Thursday December 13 at 7.30pm. Tickets are via www.roisindubh.net and www.tht.ie

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