Villagers at the Wonder Ballroom

Vortex Music Magazine

Opening for legendary Brit rocker Paul Weller, be sure to show up early for a set of beautiful, intimate songs from Conor J. O'Brien on October 1. Photos by Veronica Rose

Villagers, a solo vehicle for Irish singer-songwriter Conor J. O'Brien, open for Paul Weller this Thursday, October 1 at the Wonder Ballroom.

An avid Villagers fan, this photojournalist is beside herself to experience Villagers at the apt Wonder Ballroom: a venue built by The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a group committed to immigration reform and civil rights for those of Irish descent and the preservation of the old Irish culture.

I first saw Villagers when he headlined at Mississippi Studios in 2010 for an audience of 10 supporting his first album, Becoming a Jackal. The initial, powerful strum of O’Brien’s guitar opened a whole new world for me as he started to play “Set The Tigers Free.”

This might sound mystical and far-fetched, but as O’Brien humbly said, “Villagers will be around for a long time, I think people need it,” I completely agreed. We need Villagers. Villagers’ live show is one that causes a shift in the fabric of one's soul.

Darling Arithmetic is the third album from Villagers and was released this past April. The follow-up to O'Brien's debut, Becoming a Jackal, and its successor, {Awayland}—both of which were hugely acclaimed and each nominated for Britain's Mercury Prize—Darling Arithmetic is a breathtakingly beautiful, intimate album entirely about love and relationships.

On Darling Arithmetic, O'Brien doesn't only pare back his use of language, but he looks deep into his own heart and motives. The opening track and first single, “Courage” (watch the video below), 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."

Darling Arithmetic was written, recorded, produced and mixed by O'Brien at home—in 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 digs deeper into philosophical and existential territory, across a cast of lovers, friends, family and even strangers. Backing up his supple and emotive vocals 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-leaning fashion. Now, it’s time to watch him translate it to the stage on Thursday, October 1 at the Wonder.

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