Villagers are back with their fourth studio album, The Art of Pretending to Swim. Conor O’Brien looks to take us on a journey with their latest effort. Declan O’Dwyer’s verdict is in.
The Art of Pretending to Swim is Villagers fourth LP of original music, not counting Where Have You Been all my Life, which was a record of live recordings. Its predecessor 2015s Darling Arithmetic, was a deep soul-searching record. Like many artists this style is not repeated here. After all Joni Mitchell didn’t follow up her most confessional album by making Blue 2 but with For the Roses with genres such as Jazz and Fusion added to the mix.
Atmosphere is a hugely important part of this album, as you discover at the very beginning of the opening track ‘Again’, with the sound of seagulls. The lyrics on the opener give us an early insight into O’ Brien’s frame of mind on this LP compared to the last. “I found again, a space in my heart again, for God again, in the form of art again”.
While a confessional album may be a cathartic experience, it may also be emotionally draining. Is he telling us he fell out of love with his art for a period due to this process? Electronica is used subtlety and beautifully on this track. It is layered both musically and vocally. Listen carefully as there is a lot going on but not at the expense of the song. It is not overproduced.
The next track, which is the lead single ‘Trick of the Light’, is a cracking piece of work. While the protagonist is more upbeat on this record, it’s far from bells and whistles. He is trying to approach his issues in a more positive fashion. “It’s time I let go of things I can’t control… This path I’ve taken is the only one I’ve known… Well I’ve come so far to get here… And I’ve so far to go”. The video for this track is also well worth checking out.
The musical intro to ‘Long Time Coming’ is Radioheadesque. Lyrically he is telling us the only person who can make your dreams come true is you alone:
“If you believe that it’s there for the taking. But somebody’s gonna do it for you. Your gonna be a long time waiting”.
However, on the next verse he is not quite as defiant; “I could do without this talk of getting ahead. When it’s a battle to just get out of bed”. The production work on this track is fantastic. It builds up to a crescendo of noises that include radio static like voices speaking at the end of the track, similar to the intro of ‘This is Radio Etienne’ by Saint Etienne.
‘Fool’ is the second single released off this album. In the video for this track he is pouring out his feelings to his dinner date that is distracted by technology. A statement on the times we live in, one could presume.
The second half of The Art of Pretending To Swim is not quite as strong. ‘Real Go Getter’ is sonically interesting and melodically stays in your head. ‘Hold me Down’, with its hushed tones doesn’t quite do it for me. ‘Ada’ is a good choice to end the album on. It’s quite lengthy at over six minutes, and by no way the strongest track on the album. However, musically in many ways it encompasses what the album is about.
Artists hate to be pigeonholed but describing this record as ‘Atmosfolk’ would not be too wide of the mark. The album title tells us a lot about its contents. A kind of pretence is not always a bad thing as people need some kind of armour at times.
The album is not in total contrast to the previous one. It’s dark in places. His problems have not gone away; he is just facing them in a more positive fashion. On this album he is not only continuing to confirm his talent as a songwriter but also as a superb producer. All in all another fine album from Villagers.
Songs worth putting on repeat: ‘Again’, ‘Trick of the Light’, ‘Long Time Waiting’ and ‘Fool’.