Villagers: Darling Arithmetic | Album Review
Singer / Songwriter
It has taken some time for top buck cat Villager Conor O’Brien to lay his heart on the line. Becoming a Jackal (2010) and Awayland (2013) highlighted O’Brien’s elegant and precise prose lyrics and his band’s intuitive (if not symbiotic) grasp of dynamics, but they also displayed an over-arching cleverness that threatened to undermine his intent.
We knew he was smart but was his startling lyrical prowess more a way of saying something beautiful without actually saying what truly, deeply mattered to him?
Darling Arithmetic arrives at a point where O’Brien’s sexuality is no longer a trade secret (nor, let it be noted, an issue), and so it’s clearly as much an admission as a declaration.
In keeping with such focus and clarity is Darling Arithmetic’s sonic template. Whereas the previous two Villagers’ albums swayed brazenly between gentle acoustics and barnstorming, intricate, locked-in rock music, all of the songs here are as bare as a tree in winter. For those fans who always yearned for a stripped-back approach (O’Brien plays every instrument, making this a bona fide solo album in all but name), Darling Arithmetic is a gift that keeps on giving.
Alongside the folk trimmings, however, are O’Brien’s lyrics, which avoid ambiguity like the plague, directly addressing issues such as the heights of lust and the hollows of rejection.
Songs such as Courage (‘It took a little time to be honest, it took a little time to be me’), Hot Scary Summer, Dawning on Me, and the title track (‘If ours was a dream… then how did it end so quick?’) lay it squarely on the line: a broken heart sucks, and then some.
Clocking in at less than 40 minutes, and with nine succinct, sweet, sour songs, Darling Arithmetic will cast Villagers and O’Brien in a new light – at least for a while. The forthcoming tour will, of course, feature the multi-headed beast that is the band.
This album, however, proves that O’Brien – stripped back and wilfully solo – is just as potent and pure.