Howard’s Maide Vale session gave a complete and exciting impression of his upcoming new album.
“It feels like a celebration”, is how Ben Howard described his new record, ‘I Forget Where We Were’, to Zane Lowe last night. For the first time ever, BBC Radio 1 broadcast the entire performance of an album from start to finish.
When discussing his delayed, echoey new sound, Howard joked at how comparisons between U2’s The Edge had been made. In truth, Howard seemed that the drawn out process it took to make the album was, indeed, the correct way to go about things: “There were a lot more of us working on the album… There were so mangy ideas and a lot of different interesting parts to the record”.
His sound has transformed from an acoustically driven folk timbre, to an indie-folk hybrid, characterised by delayed guitars, and harmonic intersection
The first taste of that aforementioned delayed guitar. Howard’s cold voice croaks into life, as the guitar delay fires off like a rifle into the highly textured beat of ‘Small Things’. Howard’s use of near silence is second to none: another instrument of his pulsating sound. A raw, edgy and deeply profound piece of music.
‘Rivers In Your Mouth’
A fast beating, tinny guitar rifting harmonic overload. With slow dripping guitars chorusing throughout, this deeper, more personal sound seems to be growing from Howard’s work. It’s a clean, yet extremely messy sound. The delayed guitar is a throbbing reminder of how much thought has been put into this new record.
‘I Forget Where We Were’
The title track, ‘I Forget Where We Were’, clasps a much more recognisable Ben Howard vibe. The folk digression and picked guitar harmonies prop open the window for a flood of melodic intensity. “Hello love, my invincible friend”, Howard moans. A testament to the personal nature of this album, and perhaps to those who helped make this vision a reality.
Back to the thinned out acoustic guitar, as Howard exclaims a return to the ‘acoustic chapter.’ Fast folk picking, with a hint of moonshine and gunpowder. Brushy drums, hummed breakdowns and a shit tonne of angst are the beckoning calls for ‘In Dreams’. A rich sounding start to the album.
‘She Treats Me Well’
The acoustic chapter goes on. The quiet palm slaps on string, and pinched out melodic fumblings that made ‘Every Kingdom’ such a success, have found a place in the new record. Perhaps a sense of irony is picked up in the most stripped down song of the album, as Howard cruelly cackles over the breakdown. If that’s the case, then it’s beautifully executed. What rings off as a happy concept, ‘She Treats Me Well’ is delivered in a very moody manner.
‘Time Is Dancing’
Stopping for a drink refill, Howard quickly reaffirms himself in the drivers seat. The stripped down feel continues into ‘Time Is Dancing’. The mix of delayed electric guitar and rumbling acoustic guitar is a match that suits Howard’s deep, walking voice. The shaky, experimental drones give a certain gravitas that ‘Every Kingdom’ was perhaps missing.
Flowing straight into ‘Evergreen’, Howard’s voice turns sour. The parallels and contrasts become even more stark as the performance continues. A slow burning serenade of acoustic guitars and jumpy snares that endorse Howard’s folk routes.
‘End Of The Affair’
‘End Of The Affair’ was the first teaser we were given in regards to ‘I Forget Where We Were’. Howard makes his intro a humorous session, exclaiming he’d “tell a joke or two”, had he been given more time. Instead, the Maide Vail studios witnessed a tale of tragedy and heartbreak. Arguably the saddest idea that Howard has ever put into sound. “Living without her, living at all, seems to slow me down”. Says it all, really.
Clicking together more melodic picking, ‘Conrad’ props the sound of a rolling hill, and a more subtly manufactured folk pick me up song. Sure enough, ‘Conrad’ then curdles into something harder to swallow. The full, fragrant and charged sound of a goodbye, bitter-sweetly delivered in the form a indie-folk song.
‘All Is Now Harmed’
The sessions climax comes to a deeply-drummed climax. Man and woman singing side-by-side, as the hour long performance twinkles to and end. It almost feels like a happy ending, despite the overall mood created by the sound and sections intertwined by Howard. A special performance, ending on an especially charming note.
Ben Howard’s second studio album, ‘I Forget Where We Were’, is one not to be missed. Howard’s exclusive performance his new album in full at the Maide Vale studios was a raw and dramatic affair. The first of its kind on Radio 1.