Ben Howard: Noonday Dream
Over the course of three albums, Mercury Prize-nominated and platinum-selling British folk singer Ben Howard has been ironing out the flashier points in his music. His 2011 breakthrough, Every Kingdom, was an easy and rewarding listen—bright acoustic arrangements, lovelorn and first-time catchy hooks. Then came the lush, more subdued I Forget Where We Were in 2014. And with Noonday Dream , Howard has created a mysterious, haunting whisper of a folk album; campfire sing-alongs be damned. But immediate doesn’t necessarily mean better. Rather, Noonday Dream may be Howard’s most accomplished album, a collection of stripped-down, but rich, complex songs that only come into view with repeated listens—and with enough time, reveal themselves as stirring, stunning masterpieces. Take the challenge and be rewarded tenfold. Noonday Dream opens with single “Nica Libres at Dusk,” which surfaces after 40 seconds like a mirage across the desert, an acoustic spark rising from the dry, cooling air. Indeed, meditative may be the most apt description of this album—there’s nothing freewheeling about this dark, shadowy folk. Howard’s boiled down his sound to its essentials. Each brushed drum stroke, each echoed background vocal, each plaintive violin, each twinkling guitar note cuts deeper than you’ll expect it to. On “The Defeat,” Howard sings as if in a trance—remaining icy and calm even as distorted guitars whip and spin around him. It’s unnerving and mesmerizing at once. The song fades with a full minute of terse instrumentals, and Howard seemingly gazing silently across the open desert.