When The Immediate, of which Conor O'Brien aka Villagers was one-quarter, split up three years ago, fans and critics alike clamoured to make sense of why the most talented Irish band of their generation decided to give it up before it even started. But at least listening to O'Brien's debut album, there is the consolation that everything happens for a reason. Becoming A Jackal is one of the most remarkably self-assured debuts of recent times, filled with quality songs that dip in and out of self-transformation, mythology, horror, reflection, desolation, and strength. Confident without swaggering, O'Brien has managed to create a complex work devoid of the overblown sensitivity that male singer-songwriters can often be guilty of, and also an album that is clever without being pretentious. Nearly everything is right about most of this. O'Brien's voice soars, pierces, cuts off and whispers in all the right places, and the array of instruments – guitars, strings, piano and percussion – are all measured and meditated. Melodies and harmonies are equally well constructed and memorable. But Becoming A Jackal mostly stays with the listener because of its lyrical prowess. O'Brien's fondness for assonance and rhyme sees him relentlessly build lyrics like Jenga that never topple. The statement of intent with the title track leads to the sinister sentimentalism of 'Home' and the howling breakdown of 'Pieces'. Perhaps the best track is 'To Be Counted Among Men', which already sounds like something recorded by one of the greats of this genre. Villagers' quiet but visceral approach cuts as much as it touches.
Download: 'Becoming A Jackal', 'Home', 'To Be Counted Among Men'