For all the crazy, mystery-killing technology, the hype today, bargain bin tomorrow mindsets and bands not getting a chance to grow, there's one thing that never loses its sparkle and that's the feeling you get when you hear something special. Whether it's music from 40 years ago or last week, the life-affirming properties are the same: a crap day becomes not so crap, a good day gets even better and the future looks a little or a lot brighter. With Villagers Conor O'Brien has made one of those reach-for records that will have its own cherished spot, physically or digitally, for many.
Whether sad, sweet or sometimes a little scary, O'Brien reveals he's a young master when it comes to switching moods and tempos - you're never quite sure what he's going to try or where he's going to take you next. One minute you're air drumming to 'Ship of Promises', the next you're sighing along to 'The Meaning of Ritual; after creating the epic rush of 'I See the Dead' he ends it with an actual thud. Whereas some would frustrate with such contrariness, O'Brien can get away with it because his songs are so strong. He can even (knowingly or unknowingly) put the bass line from 'The Man Who Sold the World' into 'That Day' and not wind you up.
The terrible weight for artists these days is that so much is expected so soon, but this record suggests that whatever's thrown at him, O'Brien won't lose sight of the most important thing: the music. And when he howls at the moon on 'Pieces' you could well be joining him.