Album Review: Villagers – The Art of Pretending To Swim

Words by Callum Sheppard

Since discovering Villagers on MTV Rocks a few years ago, I’ve been in complete awe of songwriter Conor O’Brien’s insane ability to pull elements together from even the most deceptive of places. The acoustic version of their 2013 single ‘Nothing Arrived’ from a Spotify Sessions LP has been streamed over 100 million times on the streaming site. Possibly no mean feat nowadays but given that they’re still relatively unknown to the masses in certain aspects, it’s certainly a deserving spot to be in.

Their fourth studio album and latest effort, The Art of Pretending to Swim, finds commotion in a sea of quiet. If you’ve ever stood around a busy train station or airport and just watched everyone flit past, that’s exactly what this album feels like.

There’s an intense struggle within the record, especially when O’Brien’s lyrics see him fighting against himself. In opener ‘Again’, he comments on the re-occurrence of faith within his life, “I’ve found again a place in my heart again/For God again in the form of art again”. Like myself, he grew up a strongly religious person only to find other things than one’s faith. A discovery of it once again is a protection and anything but a hindrance to his life. Like the Wise Men, good things come in threes, so it’s no surprise that the struggle continues on both ‘A Trick of the Light’ and the intense devotion of ‘Sweet Saviour’. In the latter he cries, “I’ve been praising you now for what feels like eternity/sweet saviour, don’t do this to me”, a confession of pain if I’ve ever heard one.

The tapestry of emotions created on The Art of Pretending to Swim is decadent without being overbearing. A strong support finishes with ‘Ada’, a tribute to the world’s first computer programmer. Closing the latest record at little over six minutes, there’s a gorgeous moment as it closes where guitar licks just cross over each other and you wake again to realise just how fantastic a forty minutes you’ve had listening to this brilliance.

Once you listen back to the album again, you’ll realise the difficulty Conor O’Brien must’ve gone through when writing certain moments. No-one can speak for him bar himself but you feel a whole sense of relief when the strums of ‘Ada’ conclude because of the severe tranquillity that occurs compared to the emotional battle that takes place at the start.