Ben Howard is back! Noonday Dream is his third studio album and it comes four years after the release of I Forget Where We Were. Having burst onto the scene with the wonderful Every Kingdom back in 2011, I think we can all agree that the likes of ‘Old Pine’ and ‘Only Love’ are two of the prettiest songs to ever exist. Follow up I Forget Where We Were offered a slightly darker sound but was still filled with lush instrumentals, so I am pretty excited to hear what Noonday Dream has to offer.
One thing I love about Ben Howard is his ability to stray away from the “norms” of singer-songwriter traits. We only have to look as far as the singles he’s released in anticipation for Noonday Dream to see that. ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’ clocks in at a hefty seven minutes and is the lead single for the record. It’s intro is devised of a minimal instrumental built up of subtle guitars and a near-constant drone against Ben’s moody vocals, which despite not offering a lot does seem to be very well versed in drawing you in. The song’s climax is a wonderful eruption of fuzzy synths and primal drums that seem stuck in this rigid groove that’s hard to break away from.
While it’s a radio station’s nightmare, this single does introduce the sound of Noonday Dream very well. It’s murky electronic payoff is certainly worth the wait, and this is just one example that can prove how much Ben Howard stands out from the rest. Part II arrives towards the end of the record and it too excels at piquing the interest before slipping into another combustion of electronic fuzziness.
As per the album’s cover, there’s a real Desert-vibe to it’s sound. ‘Nica Libres At Dusk’ opens up the record with the same endless atmosphere that was present in the aforementioned ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’, but feels it with a habitable space built up of sleek acoustic guitars and sombre melodies that could be seen as tumbleweed dancing across the sand. Ben’s vocals almost purposely seem to be quiet enough for you to have no option but to listen intently, and it’s with that intention that the songs really open up.
The likes of ‘Towing the Line’ and ‘Someone In The Doorway’ seem subtle but actually contain a lot of layers that eventually bloom with repeated, concentrated listens. Infact, the latter song blooms as a bit of a disco-tune, with it’s snappy drums and wonderful shadows of guitars and horns in the background.
Noonday Dream is a wonderful album from Ben Howard. While it’s arguably the most subdued record of his, it certainly catches the attention enough to warrant deeper exploration. That exploration is rewarded with songs that are superbly crafted as they appear to have this gift to bloom into the ears, and now it makes sense why Ben Howard is regarded so highly.