Ben Howard

Every Kingdom

Written by: TL on 20/02/2012 16:32:40

As I may have mused about on previous occasions, one of the best and worst things about the first two months of any given year, is for Rockfreaks.net writers that we tend to find awesome records from the previous year when it's too late to award them with the appropriate credit in our end of year lists. One record that has made me revisit this thought this year, is UK singer-songwriter Ben Howard's debut LP "Every Kingdom", which came already in late September last year, yet I only learned of its existence a few weeks ago.

On "Every Kingdom", Howard presents the world with a stripped down folk sound, based largely around - yet not limited entirely to - the acoustic guitar. Imagine a more minimalist version of the approach Charlie Simpson took on his recent "Young Pilgrim" or a "For Emma, Forever Ago" (Bon Iver) that's both a little darker, yet also often a little more up-beat. Howard sits in the middle of the sound, strumming intricate acoustic melodies and singing with a warm, raspy voice, a little lower than Justin Vernon's, but not quite as round as Charlie Simpson. He is aided by subtle percussion and bass-playing, with the players also contributing female and male backing vocals respectively, and especially the former is used excellently, as can be heard as soon as in opener and standout track "Old Pine". The way it sneaks in underneath Howard's voice when he sings the chorus melody sounds brilliant and gets to me every time.

Such a little intricacy is but one symptom of the clever songwriting that permeates "Every Kingdom", a record on which Howard and his assistants really serves you more highlights than you will likely know what to do with. Both second and third songs "Diamonds" and "Wolves" are examples of how the singer/guitarist can also crank out fine hooks and choruses when the pace is quickened somewhat, and later on the record "Keep Your Head Up" provides a delightful little sun-ray of optimism before "Black Flies" steals the show entirely, setting the darkest and most intense atmosphere on the entire record.

Overall, "Every Kingdom" is easily recognised as the kind of record that's instantly going to fortify Ben Howard as a talent for all to behold. Its penchant for shade and darkness gives it an identity that sets Howard apart from other acts in the genre, and despite the limitations of the minimalistic folk approach, the songs are both varied and consistently gratifying. I guess it makes for a pretty one-sided review, but the truth is that this is just an album of dense goodness, which should be easy for anybody to enjoy, and which should easily last for many, many listens. So do yourself a favour and get on it, if you weren't already before I was.

Download: Old Pine, Black Flies, Keep Your Head Up,
For The Fans Of: Bon Iver, Charlie Simpson, Dry The River, The Decemberists
Listen: facebook.com/benhowardmusic

Release Date 30.09.2011
Island Records

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