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The Art of Pretending to Swim


Sep 21, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

For Villagers’ Conor O’Brien, “folk” is more than just a genre of music. Rather, the music he creates with his project, Villagers (who have now released their fifth studio LP, The Art of Pretending to Swim), has shifted to embody an atmosphere far beyond the folksy proclivities of the group’s first full-length, 2010’s Becoming a Jackal. Sure, there are the characteristic seaside sounds featured on the new album’s soothing opening track, “Again,” that can only come from growing up on Ireland’s coastbut these seagull calls blend expertly with club-infused synthesizers and vocal effects. Here, folk music has taken a backseat towards deeper, more compounding (perhaps even “experimental”) songwriting.

Much of The Art of Pretending to Swim‘s influences seem steeped in this kind of mix: not too rooted in the indie folk music that was at its peak in 2009, when Villagers was born, and instead adopting a soulful lens that had not really been tapped on O’Brien’s past records. There are hints of Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers here, as well as some more contemporary influences like Matt Corby. The result is a relatively eclectic mix for the band, while the lyrics punctuate O’Brien’s large body of deeply eerie songs.

The album’s lead single, “A Trick of the Light,” is certainly dark with lines like “there’s an ocean in my body/and there’s a river in my soul/and I’m crying”; but the instrumentation is soulful. Even the music video for this track features a contradiction of darkness and uplifting rhythm, with O’Brien accompanying a disheveled man on a cosmic journey. A similar contradiction is found in the album’s second single, “Fool,” which places our technologic dependency at odds with romance in the 21st centurythe track even goes to the extent of splicing effects to serve as rhythmic patterns within the track. Soaring and provocative, “Fool” is folk pop at its best and is accompanied by a beautifully metaphoric music video.

By all accounts, The Art of Pretending to Swim is a remarkably encompassing record for a group that has been lauded as exclusively one genre of music. O’Brien and company prove that folk music is an emotive device, a way of describing a certain atmosphere, a moment in time, or place on the seaside. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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