You know those Mercury-nominated artists that aren’t usually frontrunners but seem to just be happy to be there? Yeah, we’ve never really trusted that sort (Seb Rochford, you fill us with misgiving). Until of course Dublin’s Conor O’Brien turns up as Villagers, and all our suspicion goes for toss in the face of rather stunning singer-songwriter material.
Darling Arithmetic is personal for O’Brien in a couple of ways. Firstly, he’s practically done everything himself on the record, creating a wholly intimate feel with cosy log-cabin arrangements. Everything I Am Is Yours could have been a gauche piano bar confession, but instead it feels like watching a partner relay a post-dinner love letter; Dawning On Me is the morning crack of light enveloped in O’Brien’s effortless plucking.
It’s also highly personal in content. “Do you really wanna know about these lines on my face?” he sings on opener Courage, a warning that you’re already too far in to ignore. The album is peppered with tiny revelations (“excuse me while I try to be somebody that you might decide to like,” he sings on No One To Blame), resulting in a disarming collection that’s easy to love all the way to the Merz-esque closer, So Naive. Another Mercury nomination seems almost certain for Villagers, but our calculations say that Darling Arithmetic might be the one to finally steal it.