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Album review: Ben Howard - Noonday Dream

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After his debut album Every Kingdom was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2011, and follow-up I Forget Where We Were was subject to astounding critical acclaim, Ben Howard has become a musical icon.

Newest album, Noonday Dream, breaks Howard’s mould of soft, dreamy vocals with intricate, often major-key acoustic guitar, turning into deeper, richer vocals and atmospheric, scene-setting instrumentals. The stunning guitar riffs and its pairing with Howard’s unique, transcendent vocals of I Forget Where We Were, specifically in ‘Time Is Dancing’ and ‘Conrad’, arguably make it a lot more palatable than his newest album.

His pre-album single release, ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’, had mixed reviews. Howard grounds his songs in nature, invoking the sound of bees in the introduction, perhaps showing the influence of the album being written in rural Southern France and England. The single, like many of the tracks on the album, lacks the same melodic feel and climatic chorus and instrumentals that made Howard’s music so appealing. Furthermore, the fact that the track is seven minutes long, (and it has a part two!), the shortest on the album (apart from the interlude) being four minutes, mean that the songs seem to merely drift as the instrumentals become more mundane. Despite this, the tracks have a more spiritual feel, in ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’, slower distorted electric guitar chords are layered over a richer, amplified electric/synth based background, giving it more prominence. The synths in ‘Towing The Line’ are also more melodic, complementing Howards’ voice.  

Howard’s sound is undeniably more experimental and abstract, moving away from the harmonious Every Kingdom. In ‘Murmurations’, the track almost clashes with Howard’s lyrical melody. Arguably the best song on the album, ‘There’s Your Man’ is more reminiscent of previous releases, with the familiar dreamy guitar background, upbeat drums, melodic verse and a catchier chorus, showcasing Howard’s range and tone. There’s more lyrical repetition which primarily help this,"so that's how we live with lavender and no affection, it's all talk and lavender and no affection". Moreover, ‘The Defeat’ features a very bass heavy, almost digeridoo like introduction, which furthers the richness of Howard’s vocals. This track exemplifies Howard’s progression into darker, hard hitting lyrics, And the deaths on the highways from drink in the casinos feel so natural”, “We are taught to savor everyone else’s failures endlessly, even the greatest, the very very greatest gave up, tapped out, Told all you fuckers to lie down”. His use of expletives embodies this very progression - there were none in his debut album. 

Noonday Dream is arguably drifty in its ‘dream’-like quality, but this makes a lot of the tracks anti-climatic in comparison to what Howard has been capable of in his last albums. Although the album does showcase Howard’s undeniable music and lyrical talent, the songs are no where near as easy to listen to as they are so experimental. The abstract nature of the album seems almost exclusive, the style is so vastly different from the easy-to-listen-to Every Kingdom and I Forget Where We Were, which is more of a progression.

Noonday Dream is out now.

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