Something happens fifteen minutes into this record. There’s a strange alchemic occurrence that renders you motionless. It’s that rare inimitable moment in which a songwriter’s confessional jumps from vinyl into your heart. Such is the delicacy of 'The Meaning of the Ritual' –track 4 on Villagers debut, Becoming A Jackal.
Despite clearly audible reference points (Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse), Conor J. O'Brien has managed to make one the finest Irish albums of 2010. Self-produced and almost entirely self-performed, Jackal is a deftly executed exercise in the art of drawing you in.
From opener 'I saw the Dead' onwards, O'Brien weaves tales part fantasy and nightmare. His is an evocative world of snakes, saints, and carnivorous scavengers. 'Home' and 'Twenty-Seven Strangers' display a striking sense of place and narrative, while 'Set the Tigers Free' deals poignantly with personal politics.
Musically, Villagers contain enough airs and graces to sustain repeated listens. A relatively lo-fi affair, Becoming a Jackal never once feels bloated. No aspect of the accompaniment appears overlooked: cymbals, strings, and pianos all stir with a cinematic allure. Similarly his guitars and bass are never without measured dexterity. The whole thing, despite not straying from its comfort zone, provides a splendid backdrop to a superb collection of songs.
There are of course, a few exhaustible moments on this LP -the fiddle-sawed cacophony that concludes 'Pieces' for example. Equally, 'The Pact's buoyant bossa-nova piano could be dispensed with (a little too reminiscent of Captain Sensible’s 'Happy Talk' –YouTube it, you’ll know what I mean).
These flaws are slight however, and by the time 'To Be Counted Amongst Men', draws proceedings to a quiet close, a distinctive talent has emerged. Here’s looking towards album number two.