Second albums are always a make-or-break moment for artists, look and folk sensation Ben Howard is no exception.
With four EP’s and a phenomenal debut album under his belt this surfer-dude was really riding wave after wave of success and after months of touring fans were thrilled to hear he was back in the studio working on a follow-up album.
Most of us were expecting more of the same; music that belongs where the forest meets the sea with personal insight interwoven into the lyrics.
However suitably titled ‘I Forget Where We Were’ takes a different turn from his previous works.
The blurred dark image on the cover along with heaving and resonating tones seem to reverberate throughout the entire album to give it a deeper, physician more subdued feeling than its predecessor. It seems as though Ben has disregarded his previous formula for success and opted for a new direction and sound, laying down his acoustic guitar and trademark ‘Pick-and-go’ technique and playing around with electric sounds and effects.
The first two tracks ‘Small Things’ and ‘Rivers In Your Mouth’ set the tone for the album with harmonics, soothing choruses and intense lyrics creating a rich and heavy tone. The title track takes this to the next level to create one of Ben’s most powerful songs yet, the echoing melodies giving us insight into the emotions behind the song. It conveys recurring ideas of regret and remorse that’s often be found in Ben’s writing.
He breaks out his acoustic guitar again for ‘In Dreams’ and ‘She Treats Me Well’, the latter of which is one of the more uplifting songs on the album. The leisurely beat and comforting guitar tones are reminiscent of the Ben Howard that we know and love. It describes a more hopeful and happy moment and provides welcome relief from the intensity of the rest of the album, a wholly beautiful song that can’t be listened to enough.
The hollow tones and layered effects in ‘Time is Dancing’ slowly creep into your ears and eventually into your head and soon you won’t be able to get it out. The song is a good example of how Ben has allowed his band-mates more presence in his songs especially drummer and producer Chris Bond who makes sure that the rhythm is felt in every track. One of the most profound songs in the collection is ‘End of the Affair’, split in two parts, the first sounds similar to the tracks on ‘The Burgh Island’ EP, while the second half is something completely new. Layers of harmonics, rhythms and reverbs create a bridge like something from Foals or an electronic set, meanwhile Ben shouts passionate lyrics into his guitar to give a muffled sound to his voice. The mood picks up again with light guitar tones and a dancing beat in ‘Conrad’ which in itself is another unique gem from this album.
An altogether different and unexpected turn for Ben Howard and his music but one that is no less tantalising or awe-inspiring. However not all fans of his previous discography might approve, he even admitted himself in an interview with XFM that his new album might be “hard going” at gigs. Having had the privilege of seeing him performing some of his new tracks during the summer I beg to differ, sure some of his songs are heavier and more powerful than we’re used to but they are no less impressive live. The superbly talented Ben Howard has come a long way in his musical endeavours and has finally found the courage to express his deepest emotions through his writing and this has made for some truly astounding music.
‘I Forget Where We Were’ is available now on iTunes and in Stores. Ben Howard will play two sold out gigs in The Olympia Theatre on the 7th and 8th December.
by Kevin O’Rielly