Villagers: Becoming a Jackal

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Villagers: <em>Becoming a Jackal</em>

Debut record breaks the skin

Conor J. O’Brien’s debut produces the same effect as a cut from an extremely sharp knife.

You don’t feel anything until you look down and realize you’re bleeding. On first listen, the songs seem innocuous enough—sweet acoustic folk embellished by a judicious use of strings, bells, piano and the occasional howl. But as it sinks in, O’Brien’s vivid imagery drips into your mind and produces a strong, lingering sensation.

Songs like “I Saw the Dead” and “Becoming a Jackal” hide gruesome imagery behind lilting piano melodies while others are light and sincere, like the jauntily bouncing “The Pact.” The album is well-paced and varied, flitting along without lingering too long in either darkness or levity and the music itself is seductive and gorgeous, winding and curling around O’Brien’s pleasant tenor.

The power of Becoming a Jackal lies in O’Brien’s deft ability to turn a witty phrase without coming across as intellectually distant or trite. After a listen or two, you find yourself identifying with the songs’ compelling stories, as your own experiences bleed into them. “27 Strangers” describes the mundane experience of riding a bus with a bunch of strangers, an event everyone has experienced, with clever freshness. Every word on the album rings honest and true without any indulgent dips in over-sentimentality.