villagers_awayland_new_300dpiVillagers debut album ‘Becoming a Jackal’ was never a particularly straightforward listen. It was awkward and angular, both mysterious and mesmorising. All-in-all, it was almost too ambitious for a debut. What Conor O’Brien and Villagers have done on {Awayland} is show us exactly what they’re capable of. It’s an 11-track adventure down the rabbit hole with O’Brien as our guide. In an era of singles and iTunes downloads, it’s incredibly refreshing to be treated to an album as a completed piece of work.

The journey begins with My Lighthouse, a track that starts us off in familiar territory. One that is used to lure us in with light lullaby harmonies that we’re oh so familiar with after three years with ‘Becoming A Jackal’. The home comforts don’t last too long as by the time we’re on track two, there’s immediate proof that things have changed. On Earthly Pleasure; O’Brien has become menacing. A mischievous ringleader to a band who follow him with menace and malice. A plethora of instruments jump, stutter, disappear and reappear, all the while following the alluring vocal line. The song is full of twists and turns, with shifting vocals that command more authority than anything Villagers have done before.

The glitching, twinkling electronics of The Waves give us a moment to catch our breath after the claustrophobic insanity of Earthly Pleasure. The relief isn’t to last as the synths continue to build and then swell as the entire piece threatens to swallow itself in a blur of soft synths and battered basses.

Judgement Call is the hangover from the back-to-back disorientation of its two preceding tracks. It knows you’re beaten and still processing what you’ve just experienced and uses this opportunity to propose anti-semetic notions such as “you are not the same at all, cos the man in the sky has got my back and I don’t need no proof”.

There is nothing straightforward on {Awayland}. Even the seemingly simple Passing A Message is stuttered and jagged. Stabbing guitars, tumblings drums and rolling bass; it’s a loose experiment at turning ska on its head. Grateful Song slows the entire thing down, strips everything to its core in an optimistic break from all that’s come before.

The level of menace and electronic experimentation never reaches the same level as the start of {Awayland}, but it’s a necessary step in stripping away all previous notions of what Villagers were. Startling at first but upon multiple listens, the layers strip back and reveal an unprecedented level of detail where no note is out-of-place. Every note plucked and drum hit was placed there with perfect precision. By the time we reach the floaty interlude of {Awayland}, it’s clear that the more innocent Villagers won’t be back. What they’ve done here is more than take the next step, they’ve taken a phenomenal leap forward and delivered a record that builds on its predecessor in every way.