Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: Island
Balls. 27-year-old singer-songwriter Ben Howard certainly has a pair of balls. After the unexpected success of 2011’s acoustic heavy debut Every Kingdom that saw him land a couple of Brit Awards and a Mercury Prize nomination, he’d be stupid not to build on that success and chuck out more of the same, right? Wrong. He’s fed up of the first album after having flogged it to death touring it extensively, so has chosen a different direction entirely – one down electric avenue, in fact.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Ben Howard had an almost impossible rise during the course of his debut LP, Every Kingdom. From his humble, invisible-on-the-street beginnings, to him gallivanting around festival main stages across the world, selling dozerfuls of records and charting high with essentially everything he lobbed into the ether, he's one of folk-pop's recent success stories, alongside Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran.
During the summer of 2013, it seemed that every time one turned on TV festival coverage, there was Ben Howard. “Only love! Only love!” he’d be crooning to a sea of mellow, Boden-clad revellers, seemingly the very model of the Waitrose indie-folk-songwriter. So his second album comes as a surprise: darker in hue, with hints of experimentation and songs that stretch beyond radio-friendly length – End of the Affair runs to nearly eight minutes, though perhaps not all of them are needed.
Despite Ben Howard’s steady rise to fame, from playing to a handful of surfers on the coast of Devon to selling out stadiums and winning Brits off the back of 2011 debut ‘Every Kingdom’, he seems unchanged by fame. The build up to the release of ‘I Forget Where We Were’ has been fittingly calm and hushed, the singles simply washing over the Internet like the tranquil shores of Howard’s Totnes hometown that holds such a heavy influence in his sound. On the surface he may seem a little soft and straightforward, the kind of music that resides mostly within the Twitter bios of teenagers and the birthday presents of unenlightened mothers.
Compared to his contemporary British folk-rock brethren, Ben Howard isn't hidebound to conventional notions of what constitutes folk. He clutched his acoustic throughout his 2011 debut Every Kingdom but where Jake Bugg and Ed Sheeran can't go a moment without strumming, Howard indulges in deep aural pools throughout 2014's I Forget Where We Were. It's not simply that there are abundant electric guitars on the album but that the production by Chris Bond (who doubles as the singer/songwriter's drummer) is painterly, filled with shimmering, evocative echo and light flourishes that accentuate either the nimbleness or meditation of his melodies.
I Forget Where We Were begins, and Ben Howard’s deft guitar strokes come at us in stealthy and measured glides, like the moves of a chess player. We find Howard moving on from 2011’s Every Kingdom, seguing from the singalong choruses and positive gushes of tracks from that album like ‘Keep Your Head Up’. Instead, Howard has become even more introverted and personal than we saw on the last album with ‘Black Flies’.
English folkie Ben Howard has several EPs and a 2011 album to his name, but this follow-up is his strongest statement yet. From the first discordant strains of "Small Things" to the meditative "All Is Now Harmed," Howard strikes a sure-footed balance between the lilting ballads we've come to expect from past releases (see the new album's "She Treats Me Well”) and more haunting dirges that carry the weight of remorse (check the title track). I Forget Where We Were delivers a darker Howard, one who embraces loneliness and disappointment instead of shying away from them.
The million-selling, Mercury-nominated Totnes singer-songwriter Ben Howard’s second album, produced like its predecessor Every Kingdom by drummer/bassist/factotum Chris Bond, hangs together well, his David Gray/Damien Rice-like vocals resting on a bed of skittering drums, crafty guitar and fedback chords. Individual tracks take their time to get going (only one song here comes in under four minutes) and numbers such as opener Small Things break after two or three minutes to build back up from a pleasant plod to a sustained fug of sound. The title track is a winner but it’s with In Dreams, and its fast folky picking, that the record really takes off.