It’s been four years since Ben Howard‘s last album, his second. The intricate and rich ‘I Forget Where We Were’ was full of glorious experimentation, crunchy melodies and skittish riffs. Sonically, it was a world away from his Mercury Prize nominated 2011 debut ‘Every Kingdom’, but showed his years of progression and growth as a musician, and the results were dazzling. His third record, ‘Noonday Dream’, recorded in secluded studios in the south of France and South West England, it was entirely masterminded by Ben and it’s full of the things that made ‘I Forget Where We Were’ so stunning: rich instrumentation, dramatic builds and jittering syncopation. At times, it’s truly gorgeous; but at others: it’s bloody hard work.
Sprawling and indulgent, it’s full of slow burns that don’t always pay off, and expansive instrumentals that start to grate. Take the seven-minute ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’: it culminates in a colossal crash of soaring strings and gritty guitars; but it takes a good four minutes to get there, making the climax somewhat dissatisfying. And then there’s ‘Someone In The Doorway’, which doesn’t really go anywhere, and does nothing more than chug along.
The highlight of ‘Noonday Dream’ comes in the form of the galloping ‘There’s Your Man’. Boasting whirring guitar licks and unsettling syncopation, it punches you in the gut for the first time on the record. It’s what you’d hope the entire album would sound like.
Howard’s first two records revealed him to be an extraordinarily talented song-writer, unafraid to make radical musical decisions; but the path he’s followed for ‘Noonday Dream’ is a disappointing one. Monotonous and self-interested, it’s a disappointing listen from one of Britain’s most interesting song-writers.