Artist: Ben Howard
Song: Nica Libres at Dusk
Album: Noonday Dream (Release Date: June 1st)
Label: Island Records
I’ve been a fan of Ben Howard for nearly ten years now, and have been continually impressed with how the British artist has grown, maturing as a musician with a continually-evolving sound. His earlier work was, while very well done, more traditional in terms of songwriting and structure. On his last album, I Forget Where We Were, he created an atmospheric mosaic that layered the songs so well, that it felt surprising as one gleaned new emotional depths on repeat listenings.
Based on the tracks released already for Noonday Dreams, Howard is pushing further on atmospherics and allowing himself to explore more esoteric arrangements and structures. “Nica Libres at Dusk” opens with a sparse, haunting guitar melody, before singing in a haunting monotone, much like an unsettling Jose Gonzalez. When the chorus comes, one’s taken aback by the deep melancholy and beauty in his words, even as the music following hits atonal notes. The song drifts and glides, growing wider and more expansive as the six plus minutes go by.
Howard has learned to imbue power into a song without power chords or gigantic choruses. He does it with a voice only a few decibels above a whisper.