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Ben Howard - Collections From the Whiteout (Album Review)

Tuesday, 06 April 2021 Written by Graeme Marsh

‘Collections From the Whiteout’, the fourth album from Ben Howard, represents the first time he’s taken a leap of faith with an outside producer. Aaron Dessner, of the National and recent headline-grabbing work with Taylor Swift, is the man given full access, bringing a fresh perspective that results in an album unlike any of Howard’s other work.

Here the Devon songwriter pulls inspiration from personal observations and odd stories springing up from news headlines, with the bubbly synths of opener Follies Fixture providing the backdrop for an immediate curveball. Finders Keepers, an eerie tale based around a friend of Howard’s father finding a body in a suitcase, is weirder still.

The off-kilter Make Arrangements is another among the tally of stranger tracks, but it’s emblematic of Howard’s biggest fascination on ‘Collections From the Whiteout’: percussion.

There are moments of percussive uniqueness stamped all over the record, such as those on Sage That She Was Burning or the pleasant Metaphysical Cantations, even if there is often little else of appeal.

Too regularly tracks are guilty of lacking direction or, more accurately, having no destination of any sort. They amble along with little purpose. You Have Your Way, for example, feels like a whole four minutes based around a tiny snippet of an idea.

The album’s best moments, however, stand comfortably apart from their peers. The minimalist folk cut Rookery sounds like Woody Guthrie for a new generation, as does the way too short closer Buzzard. The single What A Day, though, is the pick of the bunch by some distance, shuffling along like lounge music for some time with Howard in Nick Drake mode before gorgeous electric guitars kick in. It’s a similar shift in tone to those that Kurt Vile employs to transform simple songs into something sublime at the flick of a switch.

Sadly, as a whole ‘Collections From the Whiteout’ is immeasurably removed from Howard’s masterpiece ‘I Forget Where We Were’ and its follow up ‘Noonday Dream’. It’s no coincidence that many of the greatest albums in history come from a dark place, and separated from those records’ searching cores there is something missing here.

Ben Howard Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed September 08 2021 - EDINBURGH Queens Hall
Thu September 09 2021 - BRISTOL Trinity
Mon September 13 2021 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Wed September 15 2021 - KINGSTON Pryzm
Sat September 18 2021 - LONDON Royal Festival Hall
Sun September 19 2021 - LONDON Royal Festival Hall

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