From the very first seconds of Becoming a Jackal, he’s got you. A faint drone of organ, joined by eerie strings and a cascade of piano that collectively casts a Hitchcock movie shadow before a hushed voice asks, “Have you got just a minute? / Are you easily led? / Let me show the backroom / Where I saw the dead / Dancing like children on a midsummer morn / And they asked me to join” – and then the music obliges by with a similar spectral sweep. ‘I Saw the Dead’ is not just the album intro of 2010 to date but also a magnificent intro to the vivid narratives, gripping poetry and melodic depth of Conor J. O’Brien – or as he likes to call himself and his cohorts, Villagers.
Over the course of 11 varied, subtle, complex and plain gorgeous songs, the Dubliner shows just why he is Domino’s latest signing, while defying any easy categorisation of his influences or peers. O’Brien namechecks David Axelrod, Jens Lekman, Robert Wyatt and Rufus Wainwright but you could equally add Paddy McAloon, Paul Simon and Randy Newman to the possible roots of this record. And its creator is just as captivating in person.
Young in face but intense around the eyes, O’Brien will probably never run out of insights and incidents, so you can be sure that Villagers will be around for the long term. Which suits him just fine. “I don’t want this ever to be the finished product, but to be constantly changing, moving and growing. I can hear so much more.”
“Becoming A Jackal” was nominated for 2010 Mercury Prize and is currently shortlisted for the Choice Music Award 2011.