Damn You, Conor O’Brien

Album review: Villagers – Becoming a Jackal

I first heard his album at a friend’s temporary space, I think.  Maybe it was another artist, but I’m pretty sure it was him.  Friend in question is a real music journalist, as opposed to yours truly, who is but a mere dabbler in writing about the work of others.

Something about Villagers I didn’t like.  I felt almost offended by him, I didn’t know why.  He just seemed so earnest, it was annoying.

Said music journalist friend sent me this link to a YouTube video of Villagers–aka Dubliner Conor O’Brien–performing on Later… with Jools Holland. I was still annoyed with the young Irishman, and his poppy folksiness that seemed to fill me with ire.

So why am I listening to his entire album, Becoming a Jackal, on NPR?  Am I trying to make myself even more fired up?  Or am I giving Villagers a second opportunity to impress a jaded American?  Or maybe I was just feeling really bitchy all those other times?

Well, listening to the album now, I’ve figured out my problem with O’Brien.  Yes, he seems earnest.  He seems impossibly earnest, and impossibly sincere.  O’Brien puts himself out there, offering up his emotions raw to the table.  He doesn’t hold up any lyrical façades to hide behind, nor does he seem to create any personas.  He just makes music that ardently tugs at the stitches you’ve sewn up in your own heart.

Listening to the title track of Becoming a Jackal, O’Brien repeatedly cries, “I’m selling you my fears.”  I want to slap him for being so heart-wrenchingly genuine.  There are a number of lines weighed with emotions that challenge you in how unabashed they are.  It’s lovely, intimate music, if you can bear the aches Becoming a Jackal may inadvertently cause in the chest area.

This isn’t the sort of music to casually listen to unless you have no strings to tug, or perhaps after quite a few listens when you might be desensitised.  Villagers will challenge your heart through an audio assault cleverly guised as folk-rock.  Don’t be afraid of the onslaught.  Perhaps every now and then we need our armour to be pierced, and Conor O’Brien does so beautifully through his own dedication in conveying a spectrum of emotions in a way that makes it not seem as bad.

The jerk.

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