CLUAS Album Reviews

Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

May 13

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Thursday, May 13, 2010  RssIcon

A review of the album Becoming A Jackal by Villagers

Review Snapshot: Despite the huge weight of expectation, Conor O'Brien delivers possibly the finest Irish record you'll hear this year in the shape of Becoming A Jackal.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Villagers - Becoming A Jackal

Full Review: It's difficult not to feel sorry for Conor O'Brien. Dude's only a slip of a thing and yet he has to deal with me putting the entire weight of my musical expectations for 2010 on his shoulders.  That said, with Becoming A Jackal, O'Brien has set himself apart from the pack. There's a tenderness and a craftsmanship at play here that is as rare as it is beautiful and for that reason alone O'Brien and his Villagers should be considered a national treasure.

Opening with 'I Saw the Dead', Villagers set the scene for an album whose veins are coursing with isolation and fear and yet whose mind is set on hope and regeneration.  Such is the epic nature of 'I Saw the Dead', a song that calls to mind everything from 'A Day In The Life' to Elliott Smith's 'Whatever (Some Folk Song in C)', it almost deserves a review of its own. My only warning is that the end can be quite terrifying if you're listening to it alone late at night.

It is quickly followed by 'Becoming A Jackal', a song that captures the raw emotive energy that O'Brien taps into better than any of his contemporaries.  Themes of loneliness and falling apart are evident on tracks like 'Home' - the song Roy Orbison should have written when he sat down to pen 'I Drove All Night', 'The Meaning of the Ritual' - more orchestral and moving than its version on the Hollow Kind EP and 'Pieces' - a song that should bring considerable comfort to anyone who has ever felt like they were about to fall apart.

It's difficult to have complaints about an album that feels as satisfying as Becoming A Jackal.  However, I can imagine that O'Brien's constant use of rhyming couplets could grate on repeated listen and the inclusion of 'The Pact (I'll be your Fever)' - a song that could well be the theme tune to a new reality show that sees a Irish family stranded on a desert island, calypso indie pop anyone? - is odd, especially at the expense of songs like 'The Sun is Hanging from a String' or 'Down, Under the Sea'.

Overall though, this is a work of real beauty and understated genius. The influences of Neil Young and Elliott Smith - especially in the multi-layered vocals that are used in a number of songs - are not ones that I'd heard in any of Villagers' live performances.

This is, for me, the most beautiful collection of songs you're likely to hear this year. Free from the constraints of the 'too many cooks' nature of The Immediate, O'Brien is allowed to soar. In his own words: 'When I grew bolder/out onto the streets I flew/released from your shackles/I danced with the jackals/and learned a new way to move.' And what an accomplished way that is.

Steven O'Rourke

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9 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

I disagree. I don't hear any 'accomplished' 'craftsmanship' in these songs, just angsty teenage poetry sung in overwrought grimaces. Not only does he rhyme 'shackles' with 'jackals', but even just using such lazy vocabulary in his lyrics is inexcusable. And it's typical of these songs - always straining to be emotive and epic and profound and authentic and what have you.

As I said in the gig review of Conor O'Brien's recent solo show, he's a Whelans lock-in singersonger version 2.0 and people should have higher expectations than that for 2010 in music.

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling" (Oscar Wilde)

By aidan on   Thursday, May 13, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

Agree. I think it's important that there are dissenting voices going against the tide of critical plaudits heading in the anointed one's (O'Brien) direction. I'm sure O'Brien himself would be relieved to see it. As Aidan said, the word that comes to mind is ''overwrought''. Actually seen him live twice in support slots and I honestly don't think he's all that great either. The songs don't really stick around in your head, there's no real hook, melody or emotional focal point there. The lyrics are awful - ''Read me til I'm read, feed me til I'm fed'' (??????) and so on. Lots of showy musicianship but no real heart. He leaves me cold.

By Ken Fallon on   Monday, May 17, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

best irish debut album ever? i belive that with the release of becoming a jackle, conor o'brien should be considered as a member to the elite methphorical group which contains such exceptional songwriters as bono and glen hansard .I never knew such a small man with a small small guitar could be responsible for one the best lyrical albums in irish histoy, his timid unassuming character almost adds to the impact of his work. When i saw him play becoming a jackle on jools holland i was impressed at the least but watching him play the meaning of the ritual took my breath away i heard it many times before but as he stood away for the mic to repeat like a puppet on a string followed by a series of ooohs as he steped closer to the mic to reduce the reverb effect made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. his lyrics are enchanting and so tought provocking on this album i believe he wanted it to sound like a whisper while still being epic in a cinematic senes . His songs are inspiring to me persoonally , the song ship of promises influenced me to write one of my best songs to date, i believe that conor o'brien is now a hugly repected singer songwriter and can boast not only having released the best irish album of 2010 but the best irish debut album full stop and domino records have bagged themselves a true gem.

By graham on   Monday, May 17, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

Before I reply, are you basing this on listening to the album or on the gig you saw?

By Steven O'Rourke on   Monday, May 17, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

Before anyone lays into me... I've not heard the album, but the lyrics are the least impressive thing about the tracks I've heard. It's mostly been that fantastic voice and the overall timbre created by the understated, unhurried arrangements that calls to mind the better moments of 70s folk. Sadly the song that impressed me most "On a Sunlit Stage" doesn't feature on the album. I quite liked "meaning of a ritual" too, but the current single "Becoming a Jackal" left me utterly cold.

I think Aidan is pre-emptively having knee-jerk "oh no the Whelans lock in thing is starting again!" reaction. ;)

By Binokular on   Thursday, May 20, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

Having listened to the album and seen Villagers live quite a few times I would have to say that the album really doesn't compare very well to the live shows. The album is a little safe and doesn't have the raw enerrgy that Villagers exude when they play live. Conor O'Brien played everything himself apart from from the strings on the album and i think this is the reason that the album hasn't got the same energy and passion as the live shows. I was dissappointed with it but i am going to see them on Sunday in the button factory and no doudt i won't be dissappointed with that.

By J on   Thursday, May 20, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

The knee is grand, Binokular - I just believe in pre-emptive strikes and getting my retaliation in first :)

By aidan on   Thursday, May 20, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

Few points......I don't know if this is the best Irish debut in the last ten years. 1. Personally I thought that Fionn Regan's debut was better and written in a better manner particularly (employing wonderful use of metaphor amongst many other things). The imagery in Regan's album was also so powerful. O'Brien's album seems to rely heavily on emotion and the heavy swings of string sections. 2. One could say that the Villagers album is written expressively. If somebody was feeling depressed, they would articulate their immediate emotions and dispose of florid vocabulary. The immediate sense of emotion could be what is key to the album's lyrics, rather than an impressive literacy. 3. Much like an an emotional outpouring, the songs operate in a tidal manner, soaring and plummeting in huge arcs. There does'nt seem to be much structure to the songs or hooks that leave a lasting impression much like immediate emotional feeling. The album is strange in how it feels like a disparate collection of songs rather than a cohesive unit, once again in the manner of Regan's debut. The depression tempered by hope is a standard plot to any story but i just don't feel that this album or its writer have fleshed out or developed this idea well enough yet. What has to be commended is the albums bravery but I think in terms of craftmanship, the emotions take away any sense of cohesion, leaving a lot to be desired.

By Evan on   Monday, June 28, 2010
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Re: Villagers 'Becoming A Jackal'

Well i saw this fellow live and after a bottle or two i find i can run thur an instance on world of warcraft listenin 2 this. I have mates who hate this guy and they know more about music and just are more on the ball, they hate how awful he lacks in so many ways...but this folk here who is typin is a sheep and i love been that way, in simple terms this sheep here loves his voice and to be honest as much as i watched that dreadful movie last week, deep down i love it so i know what i like. This dude makes me feel good..plus he is not an ass and to be honest never gets into this bla bla bla talk...he write awful stuff that i just have to love, do i know why? No....but i know i love the feelin i get when i hear his voice. In real terms i never tell my mates this, like i never tell them about wow, cos this these things in life i don't understand why i like..but i say if a man is a chilled folk and sings that makes my little heart happy, why not...who cares about the rest...this man is spreadin his love of the world, yes safe at times...but in a world of sheep...i'd rather make ppl feel good while knowin deep down most folks who make bad comments are a tad annoyed with there lack of music skill...and those folks who have music skill and look down on others are just odd as hell, cos i have never met any music man or woman who is that bitter...why...cos they enjoy life unlike the judges who need to take the songs as there are...how it affects others:) Rant over, shame i can't sing either x

By David ryan on   Monday, June 28, 2010

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