Ben Howard: The End of a Hot Heavy Summer

Written by Patrick Green |

 

A couple of days ago Ben Howard surprised fans with yet more music – three new tracks in fact. They are fitted together and somehow seem to be an excellent footnote to his most recent release Noonday Dream. The three new tracks (Another Friday Night, Hot Heavy Summer, and Sister) are just as enigmatic as we have grown to expect from him. With minimal marketing (yet obvious pride) he dropped the tracks, with Hot Heavy Summer featuring a collaboration with the amazing Sylvan Esso.

Fans seem to be spoilt this year with Ben Howard music, his recent third album Noonday Dream was dropped only a couple of months before at the start of June. Since then he’s been touring the UK and Europe relentlessly – and its been great.

“…songs seem to sit uncomfortably next to one another and areas of the album seem slow.”

For four years we were starved of his creativity, so its great to see him now fully in the swing of things. The album got generally pretty good reviews, but I feel it was one for the purists. It wasn’t as appealing as Every Kingdom to wider audiences and I think was weaker than I Forget Where We Are. It has much less of a flow or theme (obviously the sombre notes and heavy synth on many of the tracks unifies it to an extent), songs seem to sit uncomfortably next to one another and areas of the album seem slow.

Yet its success doesn’t lie in these areas for me, I see it as an ode to creativity. He didn’t make this album to sell, he made it because that’s what was inside of him and it expresses a time in his life – he seems to get the whole philosophy of why we make art spot on. But this itself could come under criticism as quite indulgent and self-centred – but why not? He takes his music extremely seriously and this shows through, and frankly its commendable.

But, back on track now. The three new songs are fitted together, but again don’t seem quite at ease next to one another. Another Friday Night has a quick and almost frenetic tone with Howard’s voice staying at a particular pitch throughout, you sense the lyrics are to be listened to intently. It reads like a poem in places with lines such as:

 Her body bleaching out into the waves

It’s still the loudest thing

Oh I wish I had all my friends somewhere drinking

The sunny afternoon into oblivion

… reading beautifully – the lyrics are tied to imagery we can all conjure with smoky eyes and longing thoughts. Waves, sun, friends, and alcohol – what an ethereal and tempting blend. Sister reads like a poem more so, and perhaps captures where Howard might find himself now.

I think the key line here is ‘Spring comes to early most years now’, this really embodies the shared feeling of time slipping through our fingers. As I approach my last year of University I have a tendency to think ‘Where the f*** did that go?’. Sister is a short and meandering musing on love searched for and lost; all the while time goes. It is impressive song writing at the very least; he has the ability to tap into his own internal feelings whilst reaching out to ours as well and making us resonate with a song. Finally, Hot Heavy Summer, which for me is the strongest of the three tracks. This collaboration with Sylvan Esso is beautiful, and I think it exemplifies this year’s summer really well. Their voices swell together to bring about a slow and rhythmic crescendo in the chorus’ without disturbing the natural pace of the song. Amelia’s (Sylvan Esso) voice lies just beneath Howard’s, undercoating it with a lightness which contrasts brilliantly with his deeper and brooding vocals. If you’re searching for a song to fit the season and time of year, then this might just be it.

“I’m so glad I was wrong.”

Before Noonday Dream I wrote a very frantic preview, which I got completely wrong. I expected a more upbeat reaction to I Forget Where We Are but instead found an elemental and melancholy dirge. I’m so glad I was wrong. These three new songs are like a post-script – they could’ve been on the album, but they create a nice triumvirate to end the summer on. It’s been a long and hot summer; these songs invite us to take a look back.

 

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