The first time I listened to Ben Howard’s I Forget Where We Were in its entirety was on Zane Lowe’s live session streamed on the BBC Radio 1 website. The video was only available for a month, but I shamelessly admit to making good use of that time, to the point where – whilst streaming the studio album – I was anticipating Howard’s asides to the audience, the guitar tuning interspersed throughout the live recording, and even the singer clearing his throat…
From the single releases of ‘End Of The Affair’, the album’s namesake ‘I Forget Where We Were’, and ‘Conrad’, it was immediately noticeable that Howard was angling for something slightly different from the jaunty and feel-good vibes of past tracks such as ‘The Wolves’. Howard’s preference for somber tones within this album had been only hinted at in previous tracks such as ‘Black Flies’ and ‘Esmeralda’. However, this darker preference has by no means impeded his artistic progression since Every Kingdom (2011); the mournful lyrics cause his signature crescendos to be made all the more melancholic. I would even go so far as to say that this sound accurately encapsulates the bouts of post-summer blues that many of us are still suffering from as we descend into the darker and bleaker months of winter.
Howard successfully orchestrates this tone through the subtle structuring of the track list itself. The arguably disjointed effect created by Howard’s trademark fingerpicking in the opening half of the album is counterbalanced by the sleepy undertones of the end track ‘All Is Now Harmed’, which hints at a sense of reconciliation in its gradual outro. The artist leads us from a place of fragmented disillusionment in ‘Small Things’, to a more reconciliatory tone in ‘She Treats Me Well’ and ‘Time Is Dancing’ – the latter employing a beautifully subtle female harmony to augment the track’s poignancy. However, this almost emotional aside from the album’s main narrative is counteracted with a vengeance through the haunting lyrics of ‘Evergreen’.
I viciously defend the album’s right to be a chart topper, despite accusations of Howard’s exile from the elusive genre of ‘indie-folk-dom’. Whether or not one subscribes to such musical genres, it is indubitable that Ben Howard’s I Forget Where We Were is a testament to the success of departing from the usual pop concoction we are usually force-fed over the radio.
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