Friday 21 September 2018



A BEARDED Conor O'Brien pauses for reflection. Music and politics, he suggests, don't often mix well. Nonetheless, the Dun Laoghaire man has a subtle plea to make. This is the Wednesday before the Marriage Equality Referendum - today, as you read this, Ireland has already decided. But O'Brien's delicate and admirable midweek request that we vote for love ("love for equality") cannot go unmentioned here.

Afterwards, O'Brien addresses his own sexuality on the mesmerising Hot Scary Summer. Truly, these are extraordinary times in the Villagers' camp. More of a solo project, or a revolving collective, than a permanently fixed band set-up, O'Brien is Villagers. Third album, the exquisite, folk-laced Darling Arithmetic, debuted at number one upon its release last month. On the first of two sold-out homecoming shows at the Olympia, a gifted O'Brien is in exemplary form.

One of the country's brightest and sharpest songsmiths, the chap has mixed things up of late, acquiring a harpist and double bassist to create an intimate and homely live experience. A humble O'Brien is all about the minimalism these days, gently sweeping from heartfelt, melodic sonnets on love and loss to complex yet harmonious reflections on identity and acceptance. If the meditative sounds of Darling Arithmetic's finest cuts showcase a gentle folkster on the edge of greatness, then the elaborate re-mouldings of previous studio efforts tell us that O'Brien is, in fact, a musical genius. For example, The Waves is no longer a twitchy electronic number, but instead, an endearing acoustic masterpiece.

A gifted arranger and guitarist with a near-angelic vocal, O'Brien ensures that every word counts. A lot of hard work has gone into this set, and yet, our leading man makes it look effortless. Occasionally, he and his band teeter on the edge of a rock 'n' roll explosion. But O'Brien knows when to rein things in. An ethereal, solo airing of the exceptional Becoming a Jackal holds us captive. This guy isn't just good - he's the best. HHHHH

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