Villagers break fourth wall on compelling, sometimes unsettling full-length debut

There are moments on “Becoming a Jackal,” the full-length debut from Villagers, when singer Conor J. O’Brien gives the impression that he’s just broken through the fourth wall to address you personally, like a TV news anchor who pauses from his script to look straight into the camera and call you by name.

It’s at once unsettling and compelling — common themes on the album, which came out in the U.S. this week on Domino.

O’Brien is more than Villagers’ singer: he’s the mastermind who wrote the songs and played most of the instruments on “Becoming a Jackal,” a project that essentially began the day after his previous band, The Immediate, broke up in 2007.

There’s a literary heft to the Dublin-born musician’s tunes, which are full of vivid imagery delivered in observational, sometimes clinical tones. When O’Brien keeps the musical arrangements spare, it often adds to the sense of vague unease: he sings quietly with precise diction on “Twenty Seven Strangers,” wordless background vocals floating over simple, almost folky acoustic guitar and a stripped-down drum beat that erupts briefly into a cacophony of cymbals.

His tone is as dry as the plucky bassline on “The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever),” which lends a buoyant pop sheen to a song about subservient obsession. Elsewhere, the songs are more sonically expansive, with rubber-band bass framing a twinkling four-note piano riff as the mood ebbs and flows on “Home,” and a brash, bold sound anchored by resonant, booming drums on “That Day.”

O’Brien most clearly breaches the performer/audience divide on the title track, a restive tune that he turns back on the listener, singing, “Before you take this song as truth/ You should wonder what I’m taking from you.” The answer is easy enough: he’s snatching away the sense of being an outsider and fully immersing you, the listener, in his riveting songs.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Richard Gilligan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *