Villagers showcase new album with joyful confidence.
On Villagers’ most recent album The Art of Pretending to Swim Conor O’Brien has got his groove back, and then some. The nifty studio magic that gained his band a raft of followers through their first two releases has been distilled by a master craftsman, O’Brien himself, and blended with the raw potency of 2015’s Ivor Novello-winning Darling Arithmetic. The result is a heady concoction; harmonically vibrant and playful with subtly textured rhythms, and laced with O’Brien’s always intriguing lyricism. It tempers listeners with bold satire and heartfelt musings on where we place our faith – in love, humanity, religion, ourselves – all served over luscious layers of acoustic guitar, piano, strings, brass, and occasionally low-key EDM.
Bringing an album of this sonic complexity into a live setting presents those same old challenges from the earlier recordings but O’Brien has assembled a fine musical collective to support his endeavor, most of whom toured Darling Arithmetic and later crafted the live recording Where Have You Been All My Life. He also has a breathtaking opener for this run of shows in Billie Marten, whose heart-on-sleeve songwriting and bare-bones delivery softens and diffuses any pre-gig tension, melting anxiety whilst gently building anticipation for the main event. A kind of Julia Jacklin wit by way of Lucy Rose delivery. Poignant and ethereal. Also, she brought cake – lemon drizzle – as a sort of apology for having not brought any merchandise “because I’m a terrible person”. She is not terrible; nor is her cake, nor her performance. All are quantifiably sweet.