Ben Howard once again evolves his music on ‘Noonday Dream’
Ben Howard is back with his third album Noonday Dream. I’ve crowned him the king of mournful optimism. Not something I would pick up from my local record store, I was generally whelmed at being given the task to review his latest album. Scarred by my many years on the local live music scene, I’ve had my fill of blokes playing acoustic guitars whilst straining something, something, broken heart, something, something, too late…down the mic. So, perhaps because my expectations of this album were lowered, it has ended up far exceeding my expectations. Dear lord, this is my favourite album of the year so far. Noonday Dream is beautifully crafted, multi-layered, interesting, thoughtful, melodic, catchy yet brooding, accessible, yet unpretentious.
Opening track ‘Nica Libres at Dusk’ sounds remarkably influenced by Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. Not to say that it’s purely derivative. A compliment in fact. This is one of the stand out tracks of the album, starting with bare percussions, dancing with monotonous, syncopated lyrics. Howard has a real knack for writing the most beautiful and complimentary choruses. They’re a real stab of warmth and comfort nestled between quite adventurous verses. By the time the track has built up its layers of instruments it gives me that sunny Morcheeba vibe. Connan Mockasin, he ain’t but you do get more than you expect for with this male solo-artist with a guitar. The corresponding music video encapsulates the sound perfectly: dusty, arid, hot. Steel brushes on the drums swirl like the wind whipping up some tumbleweed.
‘Towing The Line’ has a river cruise vibe, reminds me of The Doozer. Abstract lyrics, a deceptively simple track. ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’ is the first single to be released from this album. It carries with the water theme. Moaning synths ebb and flow from ear to ear behind quiet sounds. Out of the noise, comes chugging the verse like a river boat approaching. Close your eyes and you could be the Lady of Shalott floating through marshes. Vocals pitch around like a lighthouse lamp revolving over a hazy sea.
‘What The Moon Does’ sounds like Nick Drake has been resurrected. The guitar provides the percussion. Echoing from a wall under Howard’s voice. By the end, it sounds like a dream you’d have whilst asleep in a car. It’s an ethereal and acceptably bizarre experience. ‘Someone In The Doorway’ has that ambient rock vibe, a scantily clad verse contrasts against one of those lovely choruses he’s so good at. It’s like jumping into a bed of feathers, feels good.
‘Defeat’ is another track which I absolutely adore on this album. I promise, it’s going to be your latest earworm. It’s a perfect marriage of that ambient, rock, folk sound he has come to make his own. It encapsulated the whole album in one. It’s simultaneously discordant yet satisfying. It’s probably down to the alternative tunings he uses and being a left-handed guitarist. He’s a mirror image of the conventional dude-with-guitar, but the flip has somehow made him the right way up. It all sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. Forget your traditional chord structures, this is a lesson in how to be the other.
Words by Jasmine Robinson @halopygian