Boomkat Product Review:
Villagers is the solo project of young Irish songwriter Conor O'Brien, formerly of the once hotly tipped rock band, The Immediate, who disbanded in 2007. Becoming A Jackal finds O'Brien transgressing the customary folk-inspired guidelines of solo songwriter acts in favour of darker terrain that's uncommonly substantial for a fellow who looks for all the world like he's about fourteen years old. O'Brien has already enjoyed a charmed start to his career, scoring support slots with songwriter icons like Neil Young and Tracy Chapman, but Villagers' showstopping one-man performance for Later With Jools Holland lets you know precisely how captivating this young fellow is as a stripped bare live presence. The album features rather more adornments however; for starters the impressive opener 'I Saw The Dead' benefits from dramatic and angular, suggestively Radiohead-like piano parts while sleigh bells, echoing toms and a swooping string section bolsters up the sound. Next comes the exceptional title track, which bears the hallmarks of a really great writer in the making. If the album fails to be quite so immediately powerful elsewhere, you suspect it's got more to do with the fact that 'Becoming A Jackal' as a song has been around log enough to lodge itself in the memory. Certainly the likes of 'The Meaning Of The Ritual' and the striking 'That Day' show similar glimmers of excellence and 'Home' really starts to blossom after a few repeat listens. Towards the end of the record you'll find some more treats: the startlingly simple 'Twenty Seven Strangers' is just about as up-close and personal as the record gets, close mic-ing O'Brien's voice and pairing strummed acoustic guitar with a bone-dry drum beat. It's the introduction of high register, echoing background vocals that really elevates the song during the chorus, although on the next track (the rather sentimental) 'Pieces' O'Brien takes this falsetto one step too far, escalating to a full-blown howl which pulls the dirge-like crescendo in the direction of farce. This proves to be a rare lapse in the record's otherwise finely judged tone, which is restored n full during closer 'To Be Counted Among Men', another bare bones acoustic lament that exudes a precocious songwriting maturity. Recommended.