From his humble beginnings which were unveiled on 2010’s Becoming A Jackal, Conor O’Brien – otherwise known under the pseudonym of Villagers – quickly became established for his signature blend of dark folk music with picturesque lyrics. Villagers naturally became more of a collaborative effort after assembling a band for the second effort {Awayland} which demonstrated overwhelming crescendos on songs such as ‘The Waves’ and ‘The Bell’. So to strip all this back and go against that progression for Darling Arithmetic rather than pursue it seems a little off course?

The term solo record gets thrown around more than you imagine and even though there’s some grain of truth in most of those definitions. There’s usually still a diverse team behind the scenes of the effort; session musicians, engineers, songwriters and tea runners. So for O’Brien to take a DIY approach to this record and perform every instrument, produce and mix the record adds a delicate personal flourish.

Within the first few moments of this record, we are drawn to the quiet intimacy behind Darling Arithmetic. ‘Courage’ sounds as if it is being performed completely live, the simplicity behind the music really draws more attention to O’Brien’s abstract yet poignant statements with him asking “do you really want to know about these lines on my face?” at the beginning of the second verse. Signs of ageing and unrest litter the lyrics of Darling Arithmetic with the unresolved ‘Dawning On Me’ stating “you’ve been tugging at my eyelids, you’ve been dawning on me”.

That being said however, there are moments where O’Brien expresses solace, ‘Hot Scary Summer’ is a nostalgic ode to his first experiences with love as a boy. There isn’t an awful lot of hiding behind intricate metaphors on this record either with O’Brien speaking a lot in the first person.

There are moments on Darling Arithmetic where you expect the band to jump in to the climax of the song would be unleashed are now reserved murmurs. That’s not to say that the weight behind these moments doesn’t hit as hard however, O’Brien diverts his attention to luscious harmonies, soulful melodies over causing a ruckus. The slow burn of ‘Hot Scary Summer’ bears a resemblance to the laid back nature of Van Morrison’s early output.

Although Darling Arithmetic does not possess the immediacy of Villagers’ previous efforts. It lures you in with it’s intimate and personal nature, it’s a very inviting record with a great deal of resolution. Decorated with sublime harmonies and sparse moments, it is among O’Brien’s most comfortable output to date.

[rating:4.5]


Darling Arithmetic is available April 13th through Domino Records. You can watch the video for ‘Courage’ below.