A daring, at times playful return from a master songwriter...
'The Art Of Pretending To Swim'

This fourth release of new material by Villagers, the brainchild of Conor O’Brien, is another evolutionary marker in their exploration of quality songwriting. Much like Prince could dress graphic sexuality in a socially acceptable falsetto funk cloak, O’Brien creates delicately beautiful soundscapes that both disguise and accentuate the haunting darkness of his lyrics.

This album is somewhat of a departure with a greater emphasis on gently driving drum beats, grooving bass lines and layers of synths and samples. The lead single 'Trick Of The Light' shows a deftness of touch so often missing in prominent commercial releases. The music shifts and swirls, with emotive string passages and the ethereal synth sounds used so successfully by Jamie xx in recent years.

The standout track however is 'Long Time Waiting' – a bombastic high point with hints of Radiohead’s 'The National Anthem'. In fact there are moments throughout the album that match Yorke’s writing in both style and substance; certainly a mark of quality. Much like Villagers’ previous releases, the overriding feeling is of well-crafted, thoughtfully structured songs. The intimacy created by O’Brien’s delicate voice is as ever enhanced by beautifully chosen tonal colours.

What makes this a must listen is the sense of a master songwriter having more fun than ever. Always a creator of interesting music, there is a playfulness here that is much more prominent than in 'Becoming A Jackal' or 'Darling Arithmetic'. Once more O’Brien has given us the starlight; it’s my dearest dear hope that Villagers will again gather lilacs at a particular awards ceremony for an album that certainly keeps the home fires burning.

8/10

Words: James Himsworth

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