Villagers release the stunning Art Of Pretending To Swim

Art of Pretending to SwimVillagers have come a long way since performing “Becoming A Jackal” on Later… with Jools Holland in 2010. A steady stream of albums has seen the innovative folk group push the boundaries of finger picking guitar. Their evolutionary knack of staying one step ahead of the game lies in the sonic apparatus they use to bring folk out of the celtic and into the modern; creating soundscapes to fill every corner of Conor O’Brien’s multi-faced song writing.

It says a lot about a songwriter when they can hold the attention of a major label like Domino Records past the second album. The Art Of Pretending To Swim sees Villagers continue their penchant for penning well-crafted masterpieces. Having written, produced, mixed and performed the bulk of his work, it’s fair to say O'Brien knows what he’s doing and has probably picked up some instrumental clobber along the way.

There’s an eerie beginning to the album with “Again”, as the title echoes throughout; as if you’re being taunted by the narrator. The song soon veers off into a driving groove with plenty of electronic flutters. Things remain a little off balance still with lead single “A Trick Of The Light”, but its booming rhythm section simmers when O’Brien’s Irish tones need to hauntingly reflect: “And If I see a sign in the sky tonight, no one’s gonna tell me it’s a trick of the light. May never come but I’m willing to wait, what can I say I’m a man of the faith. And there’s an ocean in my body and there’s a river in my soul and I’m crying."

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“Fool” is Villagers at their best, blending up-tempo finger-picking folk with divine percussion, subtle synth flavours and melodic tales that stick in your head. It's not only because they’re catchy as hell, more that the lyrics captivate you entirely; and before you know it, hairs are standing up all over the place.

As the album moves on, Conor O’Brien finds his soulful side on “Love Came With All It Brings”. What begins as lo-fi and downbeat vocals with a hip-hop flavour (swears included)  soon blossoms into a joyous explosion of instruments, notably the trumpet which jolts the song completely off course. It adds samples fit for a Moby record and is a true testament to Villagers' genius knob-twiddling skills.

With many wonderful melodic harmonies and plenty of electronic wonders to explore, Villagers continue to make delicate and rhythmic finger pickings sound like a joyous labour of love. Lyrically O'Brien channels his hopes, fears and uncertainties by staring down the barrel of our now technologically centred universe, but by searching his soul for answers, he's produced a more soulful record than albums past. Let's hope he continues to search his soul over the course of many more Villagers records because no one thinks outside the folk box to such brilliant effect.

Release: 21st September 2018, Domino Records

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