{Awayland}… For the ethereal, sea-gazing child in all of us

Review: Villagers – {Awayland}

Published on January 14th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams

Villagers return with a set of songs even bigger, brighter, more urgent and more multi-faceted than those which earned their debut Becoming a Jackal a Mercury nomination; yes folks, {Awayland} is what we music scribes like to idly summarise as a Bold Leap Forwards!

Conor O’Brien’s Jonathan Donahue/Sufjan/Sparklehorse-y voice may be very much ‘of a kind’ but it’s sufficiently tender and intimate to prevent these ambitious numbers from running away with themselves entirely, while some of the musical set-pieces on show are really rather jaw-dropping: the cacophony of strings at the end of “The Waves” (reviewed in glowing terms in this singles roundup from October), the intensifying drama and ma-hoo-sive chorus of “Earthly Pleasure” that sounds like some majestic melting pot of The Divine Comedy, Pulp and dEUS…

…but Villagers make good use of their knack for the epic by not over-egging it, scattering the peaks amidst some genuinely heartwarming pop music. Moon-gazing opener “My Lighthouse” gets underway with a Jeff Buckley-ish combination of delicate fingerpicking and exquisitely hummed harmonies, throws in such rousing lyrics as “We’ll drink to the gentle, the meek and the kind / And the funny little flaws in this earthly design” then ends with a Forever Changes-esque key change over the not-as-grating-as-it-reads vow to “save all my stories for thee”, before “Earthly Pleasure” and “The Waves” raise the curtain on the widescreen quite stunningly, the former doing so off the back of the noteworthy opening line “Naked on the toilet with a toothbrush in his mouth / And he suddenly acquired an overwhelming sense of doubt”.

We’re then treated to the ingenious application of whirring strings and instantly winning, XTC-like titular refrain of “Judgement Call”, the utterly elating take-off of bitter-sweet pop beauty “Nothing Arrived” (“It’s our dearest ally / It’s our closest friend / It’s our darkest blackout / It’s our final end / My dear sweet nothing / Let’s start anew / From hereon in it’s / Just me and you”), the Sparklehorsey bliss with gritty edge of “The Bell”, and the fleeting title track, a stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks-beautiful instrumental arrangement of fingerpicking, swelling strings and reverb-laden vocables. So far so excellent.

The rigid bass line of “Passing a Message” seems to be at odds with the majesty unfolding around it yet somehow works, the overall effect reminding of The Divine Comedy’s “Through a Long and Sleepless Night”, while “Grateful Song” deploys Muse-y synth arpeggios more satisfyingly than Muse themselves, aligning it with staggering drums and fast-picked mandolin to steel you for the stirring yeut tragic tale spun by the ensuing “In a Newfound Land You Are Free”.

Closing track “Rhythm Composer” is just wonderful, winding its gently tangential (tangentle?) way through to the delightful observation “But in actuality, honey / The rhythm composes you / I love how the rhythm composes you” before ending with the oft-overlooked combination of gloopy electronics and farmyard animal noises.-

It’s easy to see a lot of people falling head over heels in love with {Awayland} but the underlying familiarity of certain elements takes the edge of wonder off for Rocksucker, rendering it highly admirable without being earth-shattering. The joys are abundant, though, so come the end of the year it’s conceivable that we’ll have returned to it and smashed down that psychological barrier. Fine work, Villagers.

Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!

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{Awayland} is out now on Domino. For more information, please visit www.wearevillagers.com


About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.