IoS album review: Villagers, Awayland (Domino)

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The Independent Culture

The cover of Awayland depicts a small child staring at an unspoilt wilderness. Sometimes, the truth is staring you in the face: with its far from cryptic title, the second Villagers album is all about escape, whether in the literal, geographical sense or through reverie and sensation. "Why," it asks, "should we fear what travel brings?"

Like the other Conor (Oberst of Bright Eyes), Conor O'Brien excels in imparting a feeling of intimacy and an eye for detail. In style, however, he's happy to lurch from beauty to bathos: track one ends with the courtly "I'll save all my stories for thee", and track two begins with the squalid "Naked on the toilet with a toothbrush in his mouth..." Perhaps the most significant line, however, is in "Judgement Call" – "We've got to get the kids before they grow/God forbid they retain their sense of wonder..."

Sonically, it's both insistently traditional and unobtrusively modern. It's that rare commodity: an album to immerse yourself in and spend time with, both things no one does any more. It closes with the sound of squealing pigs, bringing to mind the film Deliverance.

Perhaps O'Brien is trying to tell us something: the great outdoors isn't so great after all.