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Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were (Review)

Ben Howard, I Forget Where We Were

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

BEN Howard has barely put a foot wrong since the release of his debut album, Every Kingdom, which announced the West Country singer-songwriter as a major force to be reckoned with a few of years ago.

His follow-up, I Forget Where We Were merely continues his ascendency to the upper ranks of UK recording artists in astonishing fashion.

Epic, intimate, powerful and thought-provoking, this is an emphatic return for the quietly-spoken singer, who has clearly not gotten carried away on the tidal wave of acclaim that accompanied his Brit awards.

I Forget Where We Were embodies many of the traits of Every Kingdom, from slow-build approach to intricate layering, to moody beauty. But it also builds upon it to create something even more stirring and poignant according to his mood.

Hence, on a track like former single Conrad, he really gets into your sub-conscious with a slow-builder of immense quality. Spearheaded by the type of entrancing central guitar riff that is the mainstay of many Coldplay anthems, yet employing the same subtlety that has become synonymous with Howard’s own back catalogue, the song emerges as another beautifully beguiling effort.

As ever, Howard’s fragile vocals provide a highly emotional presence, adding extra meaning to the lyrics. But it’s that guitar riff that elevates the track and which really demands repeating listening.

But the quality remains throughout and there are no fillers here. Opening salvo Small Things announces its arrival with a stark, bluesy guitar riff and layers in the atmospherics made all the more striking by the shift towards a more plugged in, stretched out sound. There’s a fuller sound here to offset the moody vocals, which build around a chorus that poses the question: “Has the world gone mad, or is it only me?” It’s a question of wonderful ambiguity and one that immediately gets you thinking, while admiring the music that accompanies it.

Yet Howard’s talent lies in his ability to engage the intellect while pleasing the ears. Hence, a track like Rivers In The Mouth thrives on its toe-tapping melodies (the guitars here almost have a Dire Straits edge) and insightful lyricism, while I Forget Where We Were also weaves in some beguiling, moody guitar work over more evocative lyricism.

Out and out highlights, meanwhile, come from In Dreams, with its rolling acoustic guitar licks; Time Is Dancing, which boasts one of the best choruses on the LP to offset its early atmospherics; Evergreen with its tender yet haunting beauty, and End of the Affair, which starts in heartbroken, stripped back, intimate fashion before exploding to life around the four minute 50 second mark and astonishing as the album’s most striking masterpiece. It has something of a Radiohead quality about it when that happens.

We’ve been forced to wait for some time for Howard’s sophomore record but the wait has been truly worth it. I Forget Where We Were is, without question, one of the albums of 2014.

Download picks: Small Things, Time Is Dancing, End of the Affair, Conrad, Rivers In My Mouth, In Dreams, Evergreen

Track listing:

  1. Small things
  2. Rivers In Your Mouth
  3. I Forget Where We Were
  4. In Dreams
  5. She treats me well
  6. Time is dancing
  7. Evergreen
  8. End Of The Affair
  9. Conrad
  10. All is now harmed