“Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all”
I don’t mean to use this quote as a cliché but there is no doubt that the new album “Darling Arithmetic” from Villagers is a story of love and loss. That, however is only the start of this story. Conor O’Brien wrote, recorded and produced the entire album himself in his converted farmhouse. I’m sure I am not the only one who understands his desire to hole himself up in order to digest the disintegration of a relationship. But, as we really should expect from O’Brien by now, his tale of love and loss is brought to us entangled in his own journey of self discovery.
Which brings us to the opening track ‘Courage’. The title and substance of ‘Courage’ is a declaration of intent both of the album and of O’Brien. “It took a little time to get where I wanted// It took a little time to get free//It took a little time to be honest// it took a little time to be me”. ‘Courage’ is the testament not only of self discovery but the assurance that comes with it to stand up and show who you are. “Darling Arithmetic” is O’Brien’s coming out album.
But the album should be seen as whole with themes running throughout tying it together. O’Brien’s sexuality is brought to the fore in tracks ‘Hot Scary Summer’, ‘The Soul Serene’, and ‘Little Bigot’. There are the love songs, ‘Everything I Am Is Yours’ and ‘Dawning On Me’ that share the same piano theme. Throughout “Darling Arithmetic” we also find traces of O’Brien’s trademark integration of folk and electronica in the use of brushed percussion, strummed guitar, synthesisers and organ. The album still contains O’Brien’s unique turn of phrase and vocalisation but the overall feel is more subdued and insulated. We still get shining moments like ‘Courage’, which is the most similar to anything on “Awayland”, or the refrain on ‘Hot Scary Summer’ or the questioning “Where have you been all my life” on ‘Soul Serene’. But in general terms Conor O’Brien is drawing us in close, whispering to us, sharing his secrets and experiences, and revealing himself wholly to us. The tone therefore is deliberate. The album, the coming out, isn’t meant to be loud, just significant. But the album serves a purpose in its deviation from “Awayland”. It strips back the metaphors, the people, and the instruments until we just have Conor O’Brien laying out his soul and his experiences for us. In doing so we have a more nuanced, complicated affair altogether.
Villagers tour Ireland in May with dates:
Dublin, Olympia May 20/21st
Cork Opera House 23rd
Limerick Big Top May 24th
Belfast Mandela Hall May 25
Follow Villagers on Facebook, Twitter and www.wearevillagers.com
“Darling Arithmetic” is available on iTunes and http://www.dominorecordco.com/uk/albums/27-01-15/darling-arithmetic