Ben Howard’s debut album, Every Kingdom, released in 2011, cemented him as one of the pioneering figures of the nu folk movement alongside the likes of Mumford and Sons, Noah and the Whale and Laura Marling. Howard’s gravelly vocals and distinctive guitar playing reeled in a large audience and he was consequently nominated for the Mercury prize in 2012.
At the release of I Forget Where We Were, Howard’s latest offering, I had reservations about how the much anticipated second album could live up to the success of its predecessor. However, the Cornishman shows his ingenuity as an artist by exploring uncharted territories and more affecting sounds. End of the Affair, the first single released, sets a dark and brooding tone for the rest of the album. Howard bemoans “the weight of the world” and the “kindness gone to bed” and accompanies these melancholic sentiments with a wandering, contemplative melody which explores where his relationship went so wrong.
I Forget Where We Were similarly takes us down a route of a failed relationship with Howard nostalgically returning to hazy days of summer, irredeemable now. This track stands out the most on the album due to its dual workings of ferocity and placidity. He has even found recognition from Ellie Goulding who feels this song to be “just….everything”.
The album moves forward in the same contemplative vein, with looped guitar undercurrents on tracks like Conrad and Time is Dancing, where Howard not only shows off his prowess as a guitar player but also as a songwriter, creating evocative melodies which connect with the listener on an emotional level.
There are points at which the album lags behind under the problems Howard is trying to get off his chest and we do yearn for the simplicity and ease of tracks like Old Pine from his first album. She Treats Me Well rolls along quite pleasantly but does not have the progression into resolution that other tracks manage to achieve.
The development Howard manages to employ from start to finish on most tracks on this album however is perhaps what makes it so special. All Is Now Harmed begins softly and tentatively but grows with a roar of drums and guitars into something really quite unique. Similarly, In Dreams achieves this said progression with a change of tone towards the optimistic; Howard constantly surprises us and thus avoids samey second album sickness, a fever many artists have come down with before him.
I Forget Where We Were is a much darker record and may then not achieve the same levels of success as Every Kingdom among the general public. Here we see Howard diving into the depths to explore a more weighty and affecting style of artistry and song writing. However, he resurfaces with a gem of an album which should mean we will be seeing much more of him.