Ben Howard’s career began with the release of his first EP in 2008, entitled Games in the Dark, and he then hit mainstream charts with his double-platinum Every Kingdom LP in 2011. Howard tasted immediate success and continued to do so, winning a Brit Award for Best Male Solo Artist in 2013 and releasing a UK number one LP, I Forget Where We Were. Following a four year wait, Howard’s highly anticipated third album was released on 1st June. The aptly named Noonday Dream features the traditional dreamy sounds that fans will be used to and is filled with rich periods of instrumentation sandwiched between insightful lyrics, prompting introspection.
The album opens with ‘Nica Libres at Dusk’ and introduces a sense of lost youth, as well as the idea of aging and progression – ideas which remains thematic throughout the album. The opening track is a depiction of what’s to come; the album maintains its bold cinematic feel throughout. The track employs near-monotone vocals over characteristic Howard guitar melodies, delivering an almost hypnotic introduction to the album.
The energy of the album, dark and unsettled, mirrors the rhythms of nature – from sleep to awakening
Most songs on the album clock in at the five-minute mark, with ‘Towing the Line’ being the shortest track, at 3:56. This song delivers one of Howard’s most engaging melodies yet, featuring work by composer Yann Tiersen which then fades out into distorted Spanish-influenced guitar. This track works as a pause for reflection and sparks the listener’s imagination with its story-esque lyrics.
The seven-minute epic ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’ begins with an eerie whine of an electric guitar, which is slowly washed away with sounds of the tide, allowing way for Howard’s gentle acoustic guitar. Very evident in the build on the instrumentation in this album, and particularly in this song, is Howard’s reflection on nature. Noonday Dream was recorded and produced in the south-west of France, as well as the south-west of England, and thus the build of guitar, vocal, cello, drums, and violin textures, later interrupted by a synth, introduce a new energy into the album. This energy, dark and unsettled, mirrors the rhythms of nature – from sleep to awakening.
Howard has distanced himself from the catchy, more popular melodies he’s known for, including ‘The Wolves’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’
The album does also feature more upbeat tracks, including ‘Someone in the Doorway’ and ‘The Defeat’ which occur midway through the album and offer a refreshing contrast to the darker and heavier beginning. It’s clear that in this album Howard has distanced himself from the catchy, more popular melodies he’s perhaps known for, including the likes of ‘The Wolves’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’ from his first album. ‘There’s Your Man’ is probably the only track on the album which resembles the style Ben Howard rose to fame with.
The last song on the album is ‘Murmurations’ which returns to the aesthetic of the start of the album; the song re-introduces stillness. The album certainly feels more mature than the two that preceded it, which signifies Howard’s evolution as an artist. Noonday Dream is without a doubt Ben Howard’s most expansive work yet; navigating this album reveals Howard’s growth into a composer, rather than just a folk singer-songwriter with a guitar. While the folk-inspired sound still remains, this album is a more defined and developed sound and a step into a bold new direction for Howard. Noonday Dream, through its complexity and its hypnotic, dreamlike aesthetic has made introspection uncharacteristically inclusive, and thus proves itself to be worth the four-year wait.