Villagers’ latest release Darling Arithmetic tackles the themes of loss, submission and grappling at identity. The subdued effort has stripped back from the busy arrangements found on previous efforts and counteracted it with abstract lyrics and minimal instrumentation.
Warming up the audience at Glee Club is Luke Sital-Singh. Having released his debut record The Fire Inside in August of last year to positive acclaim, the singer is showing no signs of slowing down on his relentless touring cycle. Wearing his influences on his sleeve, Singh opens up with ‘I Have Been A Fire’, which feels as if it was directly lifted from a Damien Rice record, complete with a very passionate and unexpected crescendo.
Apologising for the lack of happy songs in his set, Singh comments “Well you’re at a Villagers show anyway, so you knew what you were getting into” before storming into ‘Greatest Lovers’, which features a soaring anthemic chorus, perfect for the festival season. The real highlight – besides Singh’s little game of musical chairs as he swaps between electric/acoustic guitar and piano between songs – is ‘Nothing Stays The Same’. Starting off as a sparse endeavour with a timid melody, the song slowly builds into an overwhelming Springsteen-esque pop song.
Above all, there was a lot of mystery behind what to expect Villagers’ performance this night. Will it be a solo venture for Conor O’Brien or will it be full band on some songs? When the band takes to the stage to open with the title track off of the latest record, the mist clears and it becomes somewhat clear what kind of direction tonight’s set is going in.
Old favourites have all been gutted and reimagined as whimsical sparse folk songs. The biggest noticeable change is the subdued ‘Nothing Arrived’, which strips back the arrangement to just a double bass accompanying the song, making it feel a lot more organic.
Commenting on the last time Villagers was in Nottingham, O’Brien recalls supporting Elbow at the Capital FM arena and comments that “all arenas look the same” before quickly adding “I hope we never become that big”. Since O’Brien wrote and performed the new record completely on his own, with each song the direction that Darling Arithmetic would have gone in had he received external input becomes clearer. Songs like ‘Dawning On Me’ are embellished with harps, whilst the band pulls the rug under ‘Little Bigot’ and fleshes it out to create a grand frenzy with gang vocals.
As the set goes on, more questions are raised than answered. In particular, how will ‘The Waves’ sound without the glitchy electronic noises? The subdued nature of the performance was able to add a lot more depth to the lyrics, but still managed to build into a grand crescendo as in the original track.