Villagers may be a Dublin-based indie folk band three albums in. However, on its third full-length Darling Arithmetic, it’s a one-man show yet again as Conor O’Brien wrote, produced and mixed the whole thing himself like the Mercury Prize-shortlisted debut.
Courage, a relaxing opener and single, sways exquisitely under a placid arrangement. O’Brien’s soothing, milky vocals, earthy keyboard parts laidback guitar, and a ‘couraagggge’ chorus hook that that lilts upwards effortlessly are bound to set hearts aflutter. Quality melodies continue on Everything I Am Is Yours, as nonchalant acoustic guitars and reflective piano chords manage to add a slightly spacey, quirky bounce to ominous lyrics like ‘left my demons at the door. Unfortunately, this fades rather too early.
After the folksy, finger-picking treat of Dawning On Me comes Hot Scary Summer. This slower single isn’t remotely terrifying. Instead, it charms listeners as O’Brien fondly and earnestly recalls tales of ‘kissing on the cobblestone’ despite ‘pretty young homophobes’. It floats like smoke escaping from a campfire on a warm night in the woods.
The Soul Serene gently slumbers under low-pitched strings and more intricate finger-picked acoustic guitar, before O’Brien cries out ‘where have you been all my life?’ and murky, oppressive synths darken the mood and genuinely chill the mood. O’Brien’s voice trails off as much as the piano wanders on the sentimental title track, so it may deliberately sound a bit disconnected and unfocussed.
At the tail-end on the album, the country-tinged Little Bigot on the surface recalls a bit of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album track What Goes On. It quizzically describes love as a variety of things (‘all…real…true’) over discordant piano chords and revolving, competing acoustic guitar parts that keep listeners guessing where this song would go musically. Is this a happy or sad song? One thing’s for sure: this song is eccentric and enthralling. So Naive eerily expands upon O’Brien’s musings about life. Listeners get the sense from his bare vocals and occasional long, bird-like cooing notes that he feels unsure of himself but feels a ‘part of something bigger’. It certainly proves less is more as it is affecting in its simplicity.
Darling Arithmetic is really a Conor O’Brien solo album is disguise, but intimately paints the shades of emotion such as solitude. It manages to be subtle without being unmemorable.