So, Sam. Today, on our WhatsApp group, you asked if anyone had heard the new Villagers album and I responded by suggesting a Blind Taste Test of their debut Becoming A Jackal. You see, even if the new one hasn’t clicked yet, I know I love the debut. I just forget it sometimes.
Somehow, every time I go a while without hearing Becoming A Jackal, I forget how good it is. I forget that it is wall to wall great songs from start to finish. I remember big hitters like ‘Ship Of Promises’ and the title song, but I forget the quiet majesty of ‘The Meaning Of The Ritual’ and ‘Pieces’ (to name just a couple). Sticking on the album to jog my memory for this intro, I realise that each track is magical.
They’ll be far too gentle for some people, I’m sure. But a lot of the music we have in common has a gentle side. I can’t see you hating this album, that’s for sure. I’m kind of hopeful that you’ll love it.
Thank you Fran once again for not sending me some Post Punk shouty man music to listen to. I’m going into this BTT way more prepared than any of the previous ones, for starters I’ve actually heard of Villagers and have even seen them live in a support slot a few years back. Granted I still didn’t realise that Villagers was just one guy, not a whole band but I’m more than happy to give the debut record listen after such a glowing intro from you.
Expectations going in? Sort of acoustic but in a more lush even beautiful way. I’m definitely expecting something closer to say Bon Iver’s debut than a fully stripped back folk record. Lets press play on Becoming a Jackal.
Okay from the off there’s way more going on than I expected. Instrumentation is really expansive at times on ‘I Saw the Dead’ and there’s loads to get your ear around. Has a sort of catch quality to it that I wasn’t expected. What has surprised me even more is that sudden sound at the end of the song, Fran I bet you shit yourself every time that happens thinking your stylus has come off the record.
I’m a big fan of his voice, which is the most immediately pleasing thing on the first few tracks, it’s distinctive, but welcoming too. It’s very easy to listen to, which is making a first go through so much more enjoyable. So much of this is quite catchy and almost poppy in places. The title track especially I can imagine being a sing along moment in his shows.
I’m really liking the big build up and changes in tempo and style on Ship Of Promises too, I can fully understand why you’ve picked that out as a highlight for you. So far the opening three tracks have all really intrigued me and I’m excited for the rest of it.
‘The Meaning of the Ritual’ is the first song I’m not really feeling though, I’m not sure if it comes as a downer from such a strong opening, but there’s definitely something missing there. Every song is stylistically really different so it definitely couldn’t be described as a boring record. ‘That Day’ and ‘The Pact’ get my interest back in a big way, I’d say I’m quite enjoying the whole album at this point. I can’t place an ‘era’ on this album though, in my head this can’t possibly be during the peak of ‘folk pop’ of the Mumford/Marling/Noah and the Whale time?
A quick google says it was 2010 so most definitely was during that era. It kind of proves how timeless this music is as I’d have said it was way more recent sounding than that.
It’s after this point I’m starting to lose my way a little with the album, Set The Tigers Free takes way too long to get going and Twenty Seven Strangers is doing even less for me. I’m all but lost by Pieces until he starts making really strange howling noises. I have no clue if I’ve missed some sort of context here, but I was definitely not expecting it here. Is he okay? Can someone check on Mr Villagers for me to see if he’s feeling well?
I think it’s the more acoustic numbers that are leaving me a bit wanting in the second half of this album. ‘To Be Counted Among Men’ is probably the least interesting thing here, he sounds good but I’m now longing for the most expansive and interesting music we had earlier.
I’m pretty much settled on my thoughts when I get to the final song, On A Sunlit Stage, and now it dawns on me that his voice sounds EXACTLY like Paul Simon. It now makes total sense, why he sounds the way he does, the way he uses interesting instrumentation alongside an acoustic led performance and why you love this so much Fran. I’m getting Rhythm of the Saints era Paul Simon on this last track and do really enjoy it again.
I’m definitely glad you suggested this record for me Fran, as it’s perfectly placed in the intersection of our tastes. I actually think I need to give this album to my partner David as it’s bang on his sort of thing, so perhaps this Blind Taste Test will result in a second person giving an album you love a listen. It had some less interesting moments, but for the most part I’m intrigued to see how Villagers has changed his sound in the last decade after such an interesting debut.
Words by Sam Atkins.