Release Date: Oct 11, 2011
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Many of us have likely had some iteration of the following conversation, usually at a trendy, Starbucks-loathing, independent coffee joint: Okay, well, maybe not that last line. But in any case there is an affinity for the musicians across the pond, especially the kind that cater to the indie crowd. It wasn’t that long ago when Coldplay were nothing but a seemingly normal rock band that everyone thought wanted to be Radiohead deep down, and just last year Mumford and Sons barnstormed through the states with their take on Americana.
Risking arriving a little too late to the party, Devon-born 23-year-old Ben Howard is yet another young troubadour whose sound appears indebted to the '70s pastoral folk of John Martyn and Nick Drake. His debut album, Every Kingdom, therefore, has its work cut out for it from the offset if it's to make itself heard above similar recent efforts by the likes of Marcus Foster and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. But it's clear from the opening track, "Old Pine," a slow-burning epic that begins with some hushed choral harmonies before building into a strident slice of nu-folk, that this is a more intriguing affair.
The success of Jack Johnson and (non-surfing but Cornwall-affiliated) Newton Faulkner has created an inviting niche for beach-bum strummers. Ben Howard, 24, is more earnest and a touch artier than most. His acoustic style recalls Faulkner but his preoccupations are anxiety and faltering relationships, and his wistful croon is closer to Devendra Banhart and Ray LaMontagne.
British surfer/songsmith Ben Howard works from a crowded square of beach with his brand of acoustic music, but the US release of Every Kingdom (on the back of a huge tour) creates waves aplenty. A UK top 10 album last autumn, Howard’s debut shows he has absorbed a refreshingly broad range of musical and lyrical influences, both contemporary (Bon Iver) and past (John Martyn and Paul Simon stand out). These color his work sufficiently so that it can’t simply be labelled alt-folk, folk-pop, or whatever.
"Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags/I've come to know that memories were the best things you ever had," opens Ben Howard on his debut LP, which receives stateside release next month. The rousing acoustic clip that breaks upon the revelation of "Old Pine" sets the tension between nostalgia and progression, and after earning accolades for the LP last year, the UK singer-songwriter finds himself in a similar position. Kingdom carries its British folk traditions well, but also pushes forward with a more contemporary, rebellious rhythm that adds a fevered restlessness to Howard's contemplative Nick Drake sentiments, as on the measured but aggressive bursts of "The Wolves" and "Only Love.
An impressive debut LP from the Devon-based folk-pop newcomer. Nick Levine 2011 He describes himself as a "keen surfer", and recently gave a series of beachside gigs in aid of keeping Britain's shores "barefoot-friendly", but if you're about to parkour your way to any conclusions, don't. Ben Howard most certainly isn't the "UK's answer to Jack Johnson".