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Album Review: Ben Howard, Noonday Dream

Image: Soundblab

Following a four year wait, Ben Howard’s highly anticipated third album was released on 1st June, titled Noonday Dream. The album continues the traditional dreamy sounds that listeners will be used to. However, compared with I Forget Where We Were (2014) this album feels as if it has been slowed down a notch. Songs are longer, more drawn out and even more instrumentally charged. 

In a sense it seems to connect the human aging process with the unavoidable rhythms of nature and is potentially, Howard’s self reflection on his musical career as well as his life as a whole. Howard began his career in 2008, following the release of his debut EP, Games in the Dark. His debut studio album, Every Kingdom was released in 2011. Howard’s voice is far from that of a young musician that laced his earlier work – we are now faced with the sound of a man reaching his musical maturity and epitome.

The album is made up of ten songs and is just under an hour long at fifty minutes. The album is full of lengthy, rich periods of instrumentation sandwiched between insightful lyrics. The first track, Nica Libres At Dusk alludes to the sense of lost youth and the idea of unavoidable aging and progression,

“While the faithful dispose of a generation
And all of the mountains rumble knowingly…”

When listening to this track, there is something so magical and transformative about it. Listeners will feel the sensation of being lost in time within the monotone vocals and creeping melodies that continually re-serge. Despite the sleepy sensation, not all tracks follow the same experience. More up beat songs include Someone In The Doorway and The Defeat. The album progresses from sleep to an awakening which could be interpreted as an influence from the rhythms of nature. Howard recorded this album between the rural South of France and South West England – it is hard to not see the natural influence on both the sound and evolution of the album.

The occasional, up-beat tracks featuring midway through the album offer a refreshing difference from the somewhat, monotonous beginnings of the album. Deemed as a listening experience that is, “bloody hard work” by NME the album has had a mixed reception. Although similar in scope to Howard’s previous work, this album indeed feels heavier and harder to contemplate. It is dense, and even impenetrable at times, but that is partly the point. Instrumental music is at the forefront in the listeners experience and conceptions of the album. Despite its density, the listening experience brings one of fascination but also occasional frustration. At times, it is almost impossible to penetrate beneath the layers of droning and long instrumentation. However, this is precisely Howard at his finest.

Within this album, Howard has decided to distance himself from the catchy, popular melodies of his former self and albums. This work signifies the distance between his past and present self and his evolution as an artist. This album is a unique sound for Howard and the beginning of a new direction. The voice of Howard in his first few albums was lighter, but with these songs we see a regress to a huskier, lower toned framework. In a sense, it definitely feels more poignant.

It is safe to say the reception of this album is definitely mixed, die hard fans may stay away from this new murkier sound, whilst others will rejoice in its mystery. However, in its first week Noonday Dream is tackling The Greatest Showman soundtrack for this week’s number one album. Nica Libres At Dusk, the opening song, has already had over 2 million streams on Spotify alone.