Let’s talk pet peeves for a second. My number one pet peeve would have to be when an artist you’ve been a fan of for years blows up and every man and his dog knows their stuff. It’s an interesting internal conflict. On one hand, awesome! They’re getting the kind of recognition and success they deserve. On the other, much bigger and more persuasive hand, I knew them first! Shut up! They’re mine! I told you, I told you they were amazing when they were playing a side stage to 200 people at a festival you teased me for going to and now you jerks think you discovered them on the Top 40 countdown? Shut your face.
I’m looking at you Ben Howard. I loved your debut album, Every Kingdom, so much! And now you have to go and win Brit Awards and deliver your follow up LP I Forget Where We Were which of course is fantastic and people are starting to notice and I am no longer the minority. Good for you. Annoyed as I am, I will push on for the purposes of the review, but make no mistake Ben, you and I need to have a little chat.
I Forget Where We Were turns a darker corner for the English singer song-writer, with a constant and beautiful struggle between hope and disappointment, love and loneliness, not to mention electric and acoustic, rife throughout the record. Moving between quiet, solemn moments and huge builds lands the record in the realm of City And Colour, The XX or even Chris Martin. The opening Twang of the guitar in Small Things carries an attitude and sets the tone straight up, having lost the optimism that was Only Love or Keep Your Head Up. In Dreams feels anxious, creating an uneasy tension with fast paced finger picking. In contrast we get a taste of the laid-back Ben Howard ballad with She Treats Me Well, perhaps the most positive track on the list and still somehow full of heartache.
Title track I Forget Where We Were is the most well rounded of the bunch, with a stark start and an enormous emotional build that would rival Coldplay’s Fix You or Ed Sheeran’s Give Me Love while the echo in the understated vocal keeps Howard in the folky realm of Damien Rice or Mat Kearney. The record bows out with the gorgeous All Now Is Harmed which surrounds you completely and transported me straight back to that festival side stage from the comfort of my couch. I Forget Where We Were feels like the record of a heart broken man, matured and resigned to embracing his pain rather than rebelling against it. The cheery vibes are gone, but it’s just as beautiful in it’s darkness.
So Ben, congratulations. You’ve done it. You’ve stamped yourself as the real deal and I Forget Where We Were is only going to make more people take note. It’s fantastic. But I knew it would be. You jerk.