Last stop on the Mercury Prize tour bus brings us to Villagers, an Irish entry in this year's contest with their debut album. Released in May, Becoming a Jackal became an instant hit in their homeland, topping the Irish albums chart. The album is a lush set of mostly acoustic songs with lovely melodies. It opens dramatically with “I Saw the Dead,” lushly scored with multiple pianos, followed by the lighter vibe of “Becoming a Jackal,” the album’s first single. “Ship of Promises” sails in on a grand guitar and synths melody before being lifted with a prominent bassline.
Although band frontman Colin O’Brien is noted for his dark lyrics, many of these songs have bright melodies. “That Day” is a bright, piano-based rocker, while “The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever),” is a an organ-backed love song, albeit with some odd metaphors (“you be my master and I’ll be your fever”).
The minimal, distinct beat of “Home” recalls the work of the XX, a fellow Mercury nominee, it proceeds with Villagers’ typically lush guitar melody. “Set the Tigers Free” has a particularly lovely melody—a mix of acoustic guitar, piano and drums.
Some of these songs are pretty mellow, with mixed results. I like “Twenty Seven Strangers,” which strolls slowly with a mellow beat and acoustic guitar. The sweet piano and strings of “Pieces” have a retro feel. It’s a decent song until the over-the-top ending complete with wolf howls. The sentimentality gets to be too much “The Meaning of the Ritual,” whose prominent string and acoustic guitar melody come off a bit cloying. An the closing track “To Be Counted Among Men,” is a bit of a snooze, consisting almost solely of an acoustic guitar and a vocal.
Overall not bad, but not a knockout. Probably my least favorite of the Mercury nominees I'm familiar with.
Best: Ship of Promises, I Saw the Dead, Set the Tigers Free