Ben Howard – Noonday Dream
Ben Howard is in no rush.
On his third album Noonday Dream, he delivers us nine tracks across 50 minutes, content to ramble, explore and lock into grooves rather than get in and out with a few predictable verses, choruses and catchy hooks.
It’s not an approach that will work for every artist. But Howard’s considered, atmospheric folk lends itself to stretching out into lengthy, unhurried vignettes the likes of which he delivers here.
There’s something wonderfully disconnecting about his almost robotic delivery of the verses on opening track ‘Nica Libres At Dusk’.
It strongly sets the mood for the record; it feels like Howard is being forthright in these songs, but, at the same time, his delivery suggests there’s something bigger he’s holding back.
The coldness of the sounds – namely the dark, droning synths – helps cultivate this distant vibe further. But, listen closer, and Howard’s lyrics reveal more of himself than his delivery initially suggests.
It’s an interesting and clever approach; those two descriptors can also be used when describing the way he lays out the beautiful tracks here.
There are plenty of quirks that show off the intricacy of Howard’s compositions.
The strange, alien harmony vocals that double against his natural voice in ‘Towing The Line’ sets it apart from a regular finger-picked folk ditty.
The snappy drums and distorted keyboards that burst into ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’ begins as a wake up call and ends up a dizzying psych-out.
The heavily panned, undulating synth on ‘Murmurations’ is a spooky contrast to Howard’s uncharacteristically chirpy vocal.
These are subtle creative flourishes that make Noonday Dream a captivating listen and give us a little more to discover on repeated listens.
The album is a constant tussle between sweetness and darkness, if you’re the kind of listener who understands that the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive then you will revel in the dark, sparse soundscapes that Howard pairs with his thoughtful, emotive narratives.