The highly-anticipated album by Conor O'Brien's Villagers is every bit as special as we'd hoped since hearing his first forays into the solo realm. It'd be all too easy to get carried away and follow the adoring flock, but every box is ticked here: lyrics, melody, production, vocals, and above all else, great songs. A huge achievement.
Where do you start to analyse a band like Villagers? It almost seems futile when the hopes of so many are pinned on shoulders as slight as Conor J. O'Brien's. The young Dubliner has been responsible for generating a wave of feverish acclaim since he released his exceptional debut EP 'Hollow Kind', and that wave has steadily swollen over the course of a year, not least when he became the first Irish act to sign to the prestigious Domino Records.
O'Brien's musical evolvement in such a short space of time is remarkable. As a member of the much-missed Immediate he impressed, but the past two years (including time spent in Cathy Davey's band) have seen him develop his craft and blossom into a wonderful writer - and significantly, not just another young man with a guitar.
'Becoming a Jackal''s eleven songs have both the 'goosebump' factor and the 'replayability' factor. That's largely due to the beautifully understated arrangements. The soft harmonies on the gorgeous 'Home', the warm heartbeat of the rhythm section on 'Pieces', the sadly elegant piano coda of opener 'I Saw the Dead' and the almost poppy Simon & Garfunkel-style bop of 'The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)' all epitomise the simplistic nature of this album, but it's one that works so effectively - even if the decision to shave 'The Meaning of the Ritual''s haunted refrain is a baffling one.
Lyrically, O'Brien excels, too: 'Set the Tigers Free' is a particularly wistful number that showcases his aptitude for a emotionally poignant couplet, while there are hints of the macabre here and there, too ('I Saw the Dead''s "We will be thankful and we will be fed / You take the torso, and I'll take the head").
Forget what you've read, leave your preconceptions at the door. The simple fact is that this is a beautiful collection of words and music, and the beginning of a potentially very long, and very successful solo career.