Review: Villagers, 'Darling Arithmetic' Once a bandleader with a flair for complex orchestration, Conor O'Brien sings and plays every instrument on Darling Arithmetic himself, for an album that feels surprisingly muted.
NPR logo Review: Villagers, 'Darling Arithmetic'


Review: Villagers, 'Darling Arithmetic'

Darling Arithmetic. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Villagers began as a lush one-man band with 2010's Becoming A Jackal, then morphed into an even more complex collaborative effort in time for 2013's {Awayland}, as Dublin singer-songwriter Conor O'Brien learned to work with a team he'd assembled. A natural progression would involve Villagers exploring that full-band dynamic further in the pursuit of higher orchestral peaks, but Darling Arithmetic finds O'Brien reversing course completely: He sings and plays every instrument himself, for an album that feels surprisingly muted.

Fortunately, that retreat from the lushness of {Awayland} leads to songs performed with intimacy and refreshing clarity. Each track isn't delivered at a whisper so much as a conversational murmur, with soft flourishes joining percussion that's mostly limited to the loping pitter-pat heard in "Courage" and elsewhere. O'Brien remains willing to ratchet up the drama, as "Hot Scary Summer" builds to something genuinely grand, but it's grandiosity manifested as a sweet slow burn.

O'Brien wisely keeps Darling Arithmetic's arrangements subtle and skeletal, giving each the space it needs in order to breathe, rest and seep under the skin. Never a bellower, he trusts his audience to stay fixed on his rich, lightly adorned voice and crafty but approachable lyricism. They've got good reason to do just that.

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