WHAT started out as a songwriting vehicle for young Irish musician Conor O’Brien – and a most successful one at that, netting him an Ivor Novello Award for the title track of Villagers’ debut album, Becoming A Jackal – has developed into more of a band enterprise on the follow-up Awayland, adding instrumental interest to some of his more mercurial efforts.
There was an abundance of sea imagery sloshing about this set – understandably, given O’Brien’s upbringing in a coastal town. The Waves was one such elusive offering, while the fragile, whimsical My Lighthouse was anchored emotionally by the vocal harmonies of the rest of the group. Just as it seemed that every number was destined to end either abruptly or with a cliff-hanger lack of resolution, along came the more robust, upbeat pop of Nothing Arrived and the gently inviting Becoming A Jackal.
Like a less grandiose Waterboys, the sound has Celtic soul at its heart but was often dressed up in atmospheric rock robes. O’Brien shares a slightly mannered conversational vocal style with Mike Scott, but not his stage presence. On the other hand, Scott probably doesn’t own a “transsexual guitar called Lula”.
In days of yore, support band Stealing Sheep might have been burned at the stake for their unusual punky pagan approach to female harmony singing; in 2013, their sonic sorcery is to be welcomed for conjuring such a distinctive sound.