[My Gang] Villagers – Becoming A Jackal : Reco of the Week 20 July 2010


20 Jul 2010, 15:14

Track: Becoming a Jackal
Artist: Villagers
Album: Becoming a Jackal
Tags: , , , , ,
Video: Click the pic...

YouTube, official video

Unbelievable, we're looking at the shortlist for next year's Mercury Music Prize already. We're only half way through this one.

The xx will probably walk it and it does look like they are the favourites to win. All the albums on the list are strong, though some are better than others. Paul Weller's Wake Up the Nation for instance, is one of his best and brilliantly crafted. Equal to him are I Am Kloot and their perfection, Sky at Night. In the same league is Corinne Bailey Rae with The Sea.

The debuts are good but I think it would be a shame to award prizes for potential not yet realised, or for being jury favourites, over masterpieces. So, as much as I love Laura Marling and my reco this week, Villagers, I don't think they're there yet.

And what potential. Laura Marling is talked of as being the next Joni Mitchell, there is so much respect and high regard for her songwriting skills. Alongside her, we have the new Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst in the form of Conor J O'Brien as Villagers, who wrote all the songs, played all the instruments and produced Becoming a Jackal.

When he first appeared on Jools Holland, I did the same as I did when Bon Iver came on: got bored, got distracted, looked for something else to do. Unfortunately for Villagers, the line up that night was a vibrant, dynamic one, and his appearance was apologetically weak, lacking presence.

By chance, the next day, I happened to hear the song I am recommending today, Becoming a Jackal. Can't remember the details now but I was shocked to realise that I had watched Jools Holland Live, thought I'd paid attention, yet missed this amazing song. I paid closer attention on Friday and I saw what went wrong, or rather, how the presentation didn't work for me.

Becoming a Jackal is the second track from the album of the same name. Its power lies in its lyrics and melody, with subtle nods to 60s folk and indie rock. It's a giant of a song from such a tiny, unassuming man.

Reviewers have likened O'Brien to any number of great artists but for me, he brings to mind Seth Lakeman and Crowded House, especially in this song. He aimed for Neil Young for the album and he has come pretty close. I think the thing that's missing, however, is Neil Young's maturity and passion and what's there instead is a grown man crying. But to be fair, I'm comparing a debut artist against the master he wants to be.

Emotional, emotive and dramatic, the song tells a dark story and is typical of the album. There is very little light at all, no moments of pop relief or sunniness, forcing you to notice all the pretty notes and wallow in every swoony swirl. The music is in places discordant and overwhelming, throwing the balance out, making you wish and wait for it to stop. He creates the same tension with songs that go on a little too long. Here is where the flaw lies. After tension, there should be relief and in this album, it isn't always there, making for an exhausting and at times uncomfortable experience.

(Source: Tape.tv)

O'Brien has created a world of fantasy, dreams and nightmares. Visions and wishes vie with fear and dread. We are through the looking-glass:

In the scene between the window frame
Where the jackals preyed on every soul
Where they tied you to a pole
And stripped you of your clothes

The otherworldliness of the album is perfectly showcased in the title song. With silver bells tinkling in the background, the chorus is soothing:

I was a dreamer
Staring at windows
Out onto the main street
Cos that's where the dream goes

Anything sweet and pleasant stops here. Contrasting against the wistful chorus are gothic lyrics with imagery of horror and menace, things that never happen in real life but might if your fears came true.

The idea of Alice continues in the accompanying video which plays with unrealistic colours, proportions and perspective. The dreamy nightmare of being trapped, trying to escape and seeing where to escape to forms the theme. Hanging slabs of meat recall Scott Walker's Clara, and the idea is taken to the extreme with the surreal dancing piggy corpses.

The song and video are layered and complex, standing up to repetition. The album itself seems to stand outside of time, with very few elements that will date it. A clever move by O'Brien who is clearly here to stay.


- My Gang

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Admin: Stats as of today:

Last.fm listeners of this track - 8,811
No. of plays scrobbled in Last.fm - 34,675
Position in Last 7 Days: 1 /1,457
Position in Last 6 Months: 1 / 3,506

Date Added: March 01, 2010
Views: 140,783, Comments: 230, Favourited: 1,295 times, Ratings: 827

Stats after 7 days:

Last.fm listeners of this track - 9,810
No. of plays scrobbled in Last.fm - 38,414
Position in Last 7 Days: 1 / 2,064
Position in Last 6 Months: 1 / 3,506

Views: 151,178, Comments: 238, Favourited: 1,379 times, Ratings: 868

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  • Xemper

    I'm listening to this album now. Its a decent record, deserving of the Mercury nod, though I think theres better records in the nominees list. Great journal entry :)

    21 Jul 2010, 12:20
  • Babs_05

    Thanks for the comment and compliment, Xemper. :)

    21 Jul 2010, 14:35
  • rwitte

    I've often thought that the mercury shortlists are more worthwhile than the eventual choice of winner. I agree that the song alrhough good, appears too unassuming to be great. However, some great songs seduce you over repeated listens rather than grabbing you on first contact, so I won't jump to conclusions. By the way I loved the way you use a personal anecdote to draw the reader into the piece. Thanks

    22 Jul 2010, 19:23
  • Babs_05

    Thanks very much, rwitte. :D

    22 Jul 2010, 19:27
  • Floydfreakinfan

    This is a fantastic find! Liked it from the very first notes played!

    23 Jul 2010, 14:30
  • Babs_05

    Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading. :)

    23 Jul 2010, 16:42
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