Villagers’ fourth collection finds Conor O’Brien at a transitional point in his career, casting off for pastures anew. Again details how O’Brien has fallen in love with art again, which must mean, in the intervening years between ‘{Awayland}’ and ‘The Art of Pretending To Swim’, not everything has been going swimmingly, creatively or personally, for O’Brien.

“I found again, a space in my heart again, for God again, in the form of art again, I let it flow into a bottomless hole again, as I feel it ripple and ready its soul again, alone again, home,” sings O’Brien, outlining how visceral and spiritual the experience of creation is for him. In fact, he’s also outlining the cost to his soul for our pleasure.

Again is also a warning to anybody that wants to jump in his canoe that he no longer rows it in the way he once did. O’Brien is excited and revitalised, freed even, by exploring elements of electronica. These changes are not always overt – a little more bounce in the bass, a mellow lilt of synth, a mix of real and programmed beats – but when you add them all up they display a distinct evolution.

That’s not to say that O’Brien has cast aside everything in his arsenal that he found fame with. A Trick of The Light and Fool display the type of timeless quality you’ve come to expect from Villagers and will no doubt trouble the upper end of the song of the year/decade lists that will follow on sooner than you think.

Love Came With All That It Brings and Real Go-Getter seem to hint at the aforementioned malaise. The former charts the disintegration of a relationship, the latter hints at a creative sabbatical which has been overcome.

‘The Art of Pretending to Swim’ seems to be about keeping up appearances when inside you are dying. If indeed this is a breakup album, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Irish one. The Choice Prize nomination and Ivor Novello are in the post.

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