Shooting straight to the top of the UK charts with its title track, Ben Howard’s second full-length studio album, I Forget Where We Were, combines a folk-rock sound, rich vocals and guitar prowess. With a darker overall tone, the album creates space to exhale and sink into the music.
Tracks like “I Forget Where We Were” and “Time is Dancing” showcase Howard’s mastering of mood and emotion through music. The two tracks are so captivating, as is most of the album, that they fly by. Considering they are almost five and six minutes long respectively, that’s an accomplishment. Howard gives each track the space to tell its individual story without rushing or dragging.
“Time is Dancing” begins with a wash of sound and a hi-hat in the distance, then fades into a rich, glorious guitar ostinato that permeates the track. As the layers are built in–a more prominent drum beat, more guitar riffs and vocals–it feels like falling backwards into a painting and being transported to a place to rest and experience the emotion captured in the song.
Often lyrics can be hard to understand when sung or swallowed by other instruments, but this is not true of Howard’s diction. Each word he sings is as clear as if it were spoken. By allowing enough space, time and balance for each component of the track to flow and fit naturally, each moving part can be distinctly heard.
The space and time afforded each track, typically around five minutes long, does not always work so well. “End of Affair” drags on for five whole minutes before suddenly moving into a faster tempo, becoming interesting only after the moment it seems better to skip the rest of the song. It just takes too long to get there. But this track does showcase Howard’s darker lyrics: “living without her / living at all / seems to slow me down.”
There is not a lot of diversity in the instrumentation–voice, drums and guitar dominate with a few embellishments like a doubled voice on tracks such as “Rivers in Your Mouth.” However, the mood of each song varies track to track and manages to avoid an exhausting wash of similar sounds. A lighter nature in the instrumental background in “Conrad” feels a world different than the eerie “In Dreams.”
Ben Howard’s I Forget Where We Are sinks the listener into an emotionally induced musical coma in the best possible way with folk and rock inspired genres and Howard’s sultry voice and guitar playing. Using musical mood to differentiate between tracks, this overall melancholy album is a rewarding and satisfying listen.