Review: Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were

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Three years after indie folk singer-songwriter Ben Howard’s debut record Every Kingdom was released, he’s back with the follow up: Forget Where We Were, and this time his music is far darker than before. Though the plucked guitar and Howard’s crooned vocals are still prominent, there’s an absence of up-beat, catchy singles (like ‘Keep Your Head Up’, ‘Only Love’ and ‘The Wolves’), and Howard has instead opted for extended and experimental tracks.

From the start, the record is full of crunchy melodies and huge anthemic hooks. The tracks are more experimental than before, with many of them reaching seven or eight minutes in length with extended outros that are far less radio friendly than the offerings from Every Kingdom, however that’s not to say they aren’t brilliant. I Forget Where We Were is a truly stunning offering. Lead single ‘I Forget Where We Were’ is full of galloping drums, moaning guitars and synthesised sounds. The track has the strange ability to feel both entirely hopeful and hopeless, dependent on the mood you’re listening to it in, showing quite how brilliantly Howard can convey emotions through his music.

There are elements of Every Kingdom scattered throughout I Forget Where We Were, especially in the vocal lines. Both the vocal harmonies, and the call and response nature of the sung lines remind the listener of Howard’s fabulous, mercury nominated record, but show how he’s developed his sound over the past three years. ‘Conrad’ especially shows a lot of similarity to Howard’s ‘past’ sound, and although it’s the penultimate track on the record, it acts as the gateway between the two albums.

The extended outro of ‘End Of The Affair’ is one of the highlights of the record for me. Jittering drums and skittish instrumental lines weave in and out, building anxiety and soaring towards what could be a huge climactic point, but instead of crashing down as you’d expect, the tension is broken by a cymbal crash. This musical writing sums up the writing of the entire record: incredibly intelligent, with unexpected chord sequences and surprise breakdowns working perfectly). In the case of ‘End Of The Affair’, the tension is built up again in a split second (with no prolonged build up), which shows the ease with which Howard controls is instrumental writing.

Although not the album fans might have wanted from Howard, this record stands alone as a truly exciting and experimental follow up.

4-stars

 

I Forgot Where We Were is out now via Island records

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