The cover of Becoming A Jackal, the debut album from Villagers, features a human looking into the water and seeing an animal staring back. It’s a fairly obvious image of the primitive subconscious, and lends something of a negative slant to the record’s title: is this to be a record about a sort of degeneration? The unburnished card of the slipcase and the colour scheme – beige, black, blood red – adds to the feeling that this will be a raw, edgy affair. But on one of its songs, the similarly suggestively titled ‘Set The Tigers Free’, Conor J O’Brien, whose project Villagers seems to be, sings rather of hope and freedom: “I’m leaving for the great wide open plains / Leaving while this Holy Spark remains.”
That song sounds more like Josh Rouse than anything edgier, and indeed the record by and large is far prettier than the etchings on its cover. Pretty, but sparse: on ‘Home’ (another Rouse homage?), single piano keys plink out the melody; few songs feature more than the poppy five or six of the Jens Lekman-ish ‘The Pact (I’ll Be Your Favour)’. This isn’t to say the record is nice – it opens with a track entitled ‘I Saw The Dead’, and on ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’, O’Brien delcares his love “selfish”, “takes every shiny stone but leaves the dirt”. The song ends with O’Brien on stage “like a puppet on a string”, and the album’s title track fairly clearly figures becoming a jackal as artistic maturation (O’Brien was previously with indie chaps The Immediate).
All of which is to say that, though I bought this curiously warm/frosty album on the strength of its cover art, it has a different relationship with the subconscious that those initial expectations suggested. A pleasantly gnomic surprise.