Conor O’Brien is receiving a lot of hype from all directions. Critics are praising him everywhere. And justifiably so. His debut album as Villagers, Becoming a Jackal, is yet another reason why 2010 is turning out to be the best year for Irish music ever.
Since the dissolution of the Immediate a few years ago, you’d think that O’Brien may have gotten rusty, but if anything, his vocals have improved tenfold since then. His voice is glorious and soars on many of the tracks. ‘I Saw the Dead’ is a perfect album opener, with a wonderful entwining piano melody and enchanting vocals from O’Brien.
The album’s highpoint is the title track, and the song which introduced him to the world on Later with Jools Holland a few weeks back. It’s one of the songs of the year, regardless of nationality. But luckily for us, the album is full of gems. The first four songs are as good as any opening run in recent memory. ‘Ship of Promises’ could be a fantastic radio single, and if his new label Domino have the sense (which I imagine they do, they’ve done everything else perfectly up til now) then it will be all over the airwaves this summer.
‘The Meaning of the Ritual’ had been originally on last year’s Hollow Kind EP, but has been spruced up for the full-length, and I must say the improvements have turned it into a better song. The album’s guitarist Tommy McLaughlin was in charge of production duties, and this hands-on approach has really added a warmth to the album. This can be heard throughout, particularly in the breezy ‘That Day’. It’s also perfect for radio, as is ‘Home’ and ‘The Pact’.
‘Set the Tigers Free’ is yet another highpoint, as is the growl of ‘Pieces’. There’s some more straightforward singer-songwriter tunes on here too, such as ‘Twenty Seven Strangers’ and the splendid closer ‘To Be Counted Among Men’. In fact, there’s not a weak point on the album. It’s a perfectly well rounded record