Big Hassle Media
Conor O’Brien may sport a fetching beard these days but the third album he’s recorded as Villagers finds the Dubliner shaving his music right back to the bone. By comparison, his 2010 debut album Becoming A Jackal and especially its 2013 successor [Awayland] – both hugely acclaimed and nominated for Britain’s Mercury Prize, while the latter won Ireland’s equivalent Choice Prize – were more detailed, multi-faceted affairs, so Darling Arithmetic is a brave and committed new step forward, eschewing the easier route. O’Brien plays every instrument on these exquisite, melodic songs in a beautifully sparse, spacious, intimate, acoustic-leaning fashion. He also recorded and mixed the album at his home, revealing a single-minded artist at the peak of his already considerable song-writing powers.
“[Awayland] in particular, I was experimenting with lots of stuff, which I really enjoyed,” O’Brien recalls. “But when I started this album, I wanted to get on one line, with the same feeling from start to finish, that I was emotionally satisfied with. Right before I started writing the songs, I watched Vittorio De Sica’s film Bicycle Thieves, which has this one clear vision, so beautifully executed and so simple. I even thought of giving each song its own love adjective, like ‘Unrequited’ or ‘Unconditional’. I’d been a bit disappointed in myself for hiding behind metaphors.”
Darling Arithmetic was recorded by O’Brien in the loft of a converted farmhouse that he shares in the coastal town of Malahide to the north of Dublin. Backing up his supple and emoting vocal and guitar is the subtlest palate of instrumentation – piano, Mellotron (which accounts for the album’s occasional horn and cello tones) and brushes. “I wanted to play delicately and respond to the emotion of each song,” he explains.
Lyrically, O’Brien has taken the same trajectory, revealing more of himself than ever before. Darling Arithmetic is a record entirely about love and relationships, done not in a long-winded, conceptual narrative manner but a concise statement of nine songs and 37 minutes. The lyrics encompass the various shades of feeling: desire, obsession, lust, loneliness and confusion, and deeper into philosophical and existential territory, across a cast of lovers, friends, family and even strangers.
On Darling Arithmetic, O’Brien looks deep into his own heart and motives. The opening ‘Courage’ – also the album’s lead single – concerns the most important kind of love – for yourself: “It took a little time to get where I wanted / It took a little time to get free / It took a little time to be honest / It took a little time to be me.”
There were live appearances in 2014 at the Nick Drake tribute at London’s Rough Trade shop, and In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited at London’s Barbican, as well as playing the Ceiliúradh (Celebration) arts event at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April 2014 (including a duet with Elvis Costello on ‘Shipbuilding’), but O’Brien says a fourth external factor shaping his new record was joining John Grant – the king of the bare-naked confessional – on stage in 2013 to assist in performing the American’s mighty ‘Glacier’ at the annual Other Voices concert in 2013 (and again in 2014 at Dublin’s Olympia, where Sinéad O’Connor also joined this most sublime of vocal casts).
O’Brien’s own album came together as naked arrangements inspired by naked lyrics, with the songs gelling into one distinct and harmonious form. A soulful ‘Hot Scary Summer’ rakes over the break-up of a love affair blighted by “all the pretty young homophobes looking out for a fight”. “No One To Blame’ is the album’s ‘unrequited’ song, addressing “those objects of affection that you’ll never have, and letting it affect your self-esteem. But I wanted a romantic tinge too, to almost give credence to those negative feelings. So for anyone feeling this right now, I have a song for you, a song that I wish I’d had when I was in that place.”
In ‘Little Bigot’, O’Brien declares love for the very person that won’t accept him, suggesting that they “throw that hatred on the fire.” The same feeling – that love is the most enduring of human traits – also inspires the album’s particularly becalmed finale ‘So Naïve’, as O’Brien realises that ”we actually don’t know anything”: “I’m a little sad ‘most every day ’til you call my name or make me stay / That’s when I believe that I’m part of something bigger / I’m so naive but I guess I’ve got it figured out.”
Darling Arithmetic hasn’t totally done away with metaphor. The title track addresses the dearly departed (“If ours was a dream / A phantom, a sacred scheme / Then how did it end so quick?”). The title derived from the notion that, “Arithmetic is the basis of all mathematics, and ‘darling’ is a term of endearment, so it comes from that feeling of your loved ones being the basis of everything.”
In ‘The Soul Serene’ – which returns to the theme of self-acceptance and respect – O’Brien says he “wanted to write a meditation song… I had an idea of blankness as I was writing it.” He sings of “chameleon dreams” to signify how “your mind can get mixed-up when there’s too much going on in there, but you can use that to strengthen the imagination and your idea of the possibilities of where to take your life.”
Now three albums in, Villagers is the front for playfulness and seriousness, mystery and revelation, an open-ended and flexible beast that can be anything its creator wants it to be. By going back to the root of song-writing, O’Brien has reinvented himself. As he said when releasing his first album, “I don’t want Villagers to be the finished product, but to be constantly changing, moving and growing. I’m really proud of this album but I feel like I’ve only just started getting somewhere, and I can hear so much more.”
Darling Arithmetic is the third album from Villagers, set for release on April
14th in the United States. The follow-up to Conor O’Brien’s debut, Becoming a
Jackal, and its successor, Awayland – both hugely acclaimed and each
nominated for Britain’s Mercury Prize – is a breathtakingly beautiful, intimate
album entirely about love and relationships.
Darling Arithmetic was written, recorded, produced and mixed by O’Brien at
home – the loft of a converted farmhouse that he shares in the coastal town of
Malahide to the north of Dublin – revealing a single-minded artist at the peak of
his already considerable songwriting powers. It encompasses the various shades
of feeling – desire, obsession, lust, loneliness and confusion, and deeper into
philosophical and existential territory, across a cast of lovers, friends, family and
even strangers. Backing up his supple and emoting vocal and guitar is the
subtlest palate of instrumentation – piano, Mellotron (which accounts for the
album’s occasional horn and cello tones) and brushes. O’Brien plays every
instrument on these exquisite, melodic songs in a sparse, spacious, acoustic-
On Darling Arithmetic, O’Brien doesn’t only pare back his use of language but
looks deep into his own heart and motives. The opening track and first single,
‘Courage’, concerns the most important kind of love – for yourself: “It took a
little time to get where I wanted / It took a little time to get free / It took a little
time to be honest / It took a little time to be me.”
Watch the accompanying video directed by O’Brien, HERE.
Now three albums in, Villagers is the front for playfulness and seriousness,
mystery and revelation, an open-ended and flexible beast that can be anything its
creator wants it to be. By going back to the root of songwriting, O’Brien has
Darling Arithmetic will be available on CD, LP, and digitally. Pre-order the
The digital pre-order comes with an instant download of ‘Courage’.
2. Everything I Am Is Yours
3. Dawning On Me
4. Hot Scary Summer
5. The Soul Serene
6. Darling Arithmetic
7. Little Bigot
8. No one To Blame
9. So Naïve
Since the release of their debut record in 2010, one that earned Conor an Ivor
Novello songwriting award, Villagers have shared stages with artists like Neil
Young, Tindersticks, Fleet Foxes, and Grizzly Bear. In 2014, O’Brien made
appearances at the Nick Drake tribute at London’s Rough Trade shop, and In
Dreams: David Lynch Revisited at London’s Barbican, as well as playing the
Ceiliúradh (Celebration) arts event at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April 2014
(including a duet with Elvis Costello on ‘Shipbuilding’).
O’Brien has performed on “Later… with Jools Holland”, “Last Call with Carson
Daly”, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, WXPN’s World Café, WNYC’s Soundcheck and
KEXP and was praised by The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Paste and Pitchfork.
PRAISE FOR AWAYLAND
“a captivating work that gets better with each listen. Highly Recommend.”
“a stunning sophomore release” NPR MUSIC
ANNOUNCE HEADLINE NEW YORK SHOW and CONFIRM NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL
Following on from multiple shows in 2015, which saw Villagers aka Conor O’Brien supporting John Grant, Calexico, Laura Marling and Paul Weller throughout USA and Canada, the band have announced they will be returning in July to perform shows in New York and at Newport Folk Festival.
These shows mark the first time Villagers will be appearing as a full, five-piece band in the United States. Previous trips have seen Conor O’Brien play in various stripped down configurations, however the full muscle of his live band has not been experienced by audiences in the United States. This July, catch Villagers at Le Poisson Rouge on Saturday July 23rd, or at Newport Folk Festival on Sunday July 24th.
Villagers US Tour Dates
Sat July 23 ||New York, NY ||Le Poisson Rouge || TIX
Sun July 24 || Newport, RI || Newport Folk Festival || SOLD OUT
Watch footage from a recent Villagers concert filmed in Europe. http://concert.arte.tv/fr/villagers-la-route-du-rock-hiver
2015 saw Villagers release the critically acclaimed Darling Arithmetic, the third full-length album in their career. Spawning the singles ‘The Soul Serene’, ‘Everything I Am Is Yours’, ‘Hot Scary Summer’, and ‘Dawning On Me’, the deeply personal and heartfelt album reached new audiences in American and beyond, and led to multiple tours in the United States. In early 2016, Villagers released Where Have You Been All My Life?, a a re-imagining of older material seamlessly woven with Darling Arithmetic material, recorded over one 24 hour period at London’s RAK Studios.
Praise for Darling Arithmetic:
“For the third Villagers album, “Darling Arithmetic,” Mr. O’Brien has scaled back radically, turning out something that resembles an old-fashioned folk-rock confessional. On the opener and lead single, “Courage,” he strums an acoustic guitar with a country lilt that calls Neil Young’s “Harvest” to mind.” – NEW YORK TIMES
“The need to stop pretending-to admitting one’s deepest insecurities and wants-seems central to Darling Arithmetic, an album that delivers a gorgeous, if somewhat restrained, step forward.” – PITCHFORK
“a naked and subtle acoustic record with the raw, straightforward lyrical universality of Christopher Owens and Devendra Banhart” – INTERVIEW MAGAZINE
“O’Brien wisely keeps Darling Arithmetic’s arrangements subtle and skeletal, giving each the space it needs in order to breathe, rest and seep under the skin” – NPR
“Ultimately, Darling Arithmetic emerges as the ideal soundtrack for the typical Sunday morning respite following an evening of excess and entanglement. It’s akin to meditation, when the need to exhale becomes of utmost importance. Most of all, it’s a graceful, beguiling and sumptuous set of songs, one worthy of both patience and praise, an extension of the excellence the Villagers brand introduced so early on. Darling Arithmetic is nothing less than calculated genius, manifested.” – POP MATTERS
“O’Brien’s latest is easily his richest work so far.” – PASTE
“a quiet folk album with little, arty flourishes, “Darling Arithmetic” doesn’t need to get loud to have an impact. Drumheads slapped with brushes, picked-out acoustic guitar and sparse piano and organ frame some truly lonesome vocals. Best example: the urgent, wounded shout contained in whispers on “Hot Scary Summer.”” – BOSTON HERALD
“It’s a tumultuous listen, but one that sweeps you up in its compassion, bravery, and beauty. Honesty has never sounded so good.” – UNDER THE RADAR
For more information please contact: