Villagers are well and truly established now as an accomplished outfit, consisting mainly of Conor O’Brien, with his drifter mates entering and leaving throughout time on recordings and live performances. The Art of Pretending to Swim is the fourth studio album.
Recorded by O’Brien in his home-studio attic/self-described “hobbit hole”, we get to hear another multi-layered yet lo-fi record from the indie Dubliner. Villagers’ live sets are at times more a raucous folky party than past albums suggest, but the urge to open up the sound with a larger, more expansive recording hasn’t influenced this. However, while this album falls under the lo-fi umbrella, there are still some boisterous parts throughout and one can assume this is the artist’s deliberate intention to keep a raw sensibility. Such a process serves the album well in sensitive moments, leaving O’Brien’s eerie charm unfiltered.
Written, produced, and mixed by O’Brien, we get to hear a very personal record impressively coloured, with beautiful vocals and melody intertwined on each track, most notably on Again and Long Time Waiting, where every instrument fills the space and offers layers of different rhythms throughout.
The Art of Pretending to Swim is scattered with religious references. Rather than proclaim a specific religious belief, O’Brien sings of an intrinsic faith on A Trick of the Light: “If I see a sign in the sky tonight / No one’s gonna tell me it’s a trick of the light / May never come but I’m willing to wait / What can I say I’m a man of the faith.”
The raw boldness of previous records may be lacking in …Pretending to Swim but in its place O’Brien has written some of his best songs to date. Tracks like Fool and A Trick of the Light are examples of perfect indie-folk, catchy for all the right reasons.