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REVIEW: Ben Howard – “Noonday Dream”

The sunlight is split by your hastily drawn curtains, splashing lines of shadow onto your face as you occupy a state you couldn’t quite call sleep. Part of you feels rested and relaxed. Another part worries that you missed your lunch reservation, or that it’s already the next day. However, this worry isn’t quite powerful enough to pull you off the couch and into consciousness.

It is exactly the above experience that Ben Howard’s Noonday Dream conveys sonically. The folk/ambient musician’s third full-length explores a series of unique textures and maintains interest all while never elevating your resting heartrate. Noonday Dream will be available on June 1.

Drift

“Nica Libres At Dusk” captures exactly the half-light one might experience before falling asleep, somehow both unsettling and comforting. This feeling is accomplished by the clockwork of drum brushes paired against guitar swells. When this combination morphs into more traditional picking, it resolves a sense of anticipation that may be promising or perilous. Although the song remains relaxed in terms of tempo and delivery, it sacrifices nothing in terms of compositional detail – bass lines, clean guitar leads, and various soundscapes trade back and forth just beneath Howard’s folky voice and rhythm guitar, rewarding the attentive listener. The evolving arrangement of the opening track establishes the incredible compositional value that remains consistent throughout Noonday Dream’s 51 minutes and ten tracks.

Dream

Two of Noonday Dream’s singles immediately follow, making for a compelling first third of the album. “Towing The Line” creates oceanic vibes with island-like swells and synths, but pairs this care-free sound with an unexpectedly mournful tone.

“A Boat To An Island On The Wall” on the other hand further explores Howard’s penchant for ambient sound design; crashing waves of sounds soften into strummed acoustic guitars and somber talk-singing à la Mount Eerie. This is another track that should be listened to multiple times, as subtle string arrangements and distorted bass lines make brief appearances that lend depth to the track before disappearing. However, the most interesting element of the track comes in the distorted guitar and drums that occupy the latter half of the song. The tonality is really compelling. Managing to somehow take the aggressive edge off of the guitar’s oversaturation, it instead paints a darker hue from an expansive sonic palette.

Although the general tone of this Noonday Dream is spacey and reflective, Ben Howard still offers varying degrees of drive and darkness. “There’s Your Man” is one of the more upbeat, traditionally folk-rock offerings here, made all the more enjoyable by a cleverly syncopated rhythm and dancing, delay-heavy guitars. This upbeat energy is contrasted by album closer “Murmurations” – the final track’s electronic percussion dances across the stereo spectrum on a floor of distorted pads that are equal parts comforting waves and creeping undercurrents. This unresolved conclusion evokes just the feeling you might have being pulled from a lovely daydream into reality.

Awake

Noonday Dream could easily be dismissed as a quiet, mournful record that will only appeal to folk fans. However, such a statement dismisses the incredible attentiveness and dynamism contained within these subtle arrangements. The production and arranging on this album make each repeated listen a lesson in restraint and clever minimalism that will certainly influence my approach to music for the next while. Even if you’re not interested in dissecting the unique soundscapes on display here, Noonday Dream is a relaxing, reflective record that will impress Ben Howard fans while gathering him new ones.

 

Score: 8.5/10

Notable Tracks: “A Boat To An Island On The Wall”; “Murmurations”

FFO: Mount Eerie, Bon Iver, Alt-J

Pre-order Noonday Dream here, and follow Ben Howard on Facebook.

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