There are albums you instantly connect with on the first listen. Some albums take a few plays until it resonates with your inner being. Some albums have to be played for weeks or months until they stick and become essential in your library. More than ever before, music is so widely available and accessible at the click of a button.
Long gone are the days you would read about an album release in a magazine, then save all your coins to visit a music shop and purchase an album. Those albums held more value in their physical form. Today, if an album doesn’t suit your taste you skip onto the next through Spotify or YouTube etc. this makes it tricky for artists to stay connected with their audience.
This brings me to Ben Howard and his album Noonday Dream released in 2018.
The follow up to I Forget Where We Were was long anticipated. In reflection to I Forget Where We Were it was obvious Ben Howard had created his sound, and the audience was fucking loving it. The darker tone, electric guitar, whilst keeping a humble approach to each track was unique. Many fans were expecting more music along those lines.
Upon the release of Noonday Dream, one thing was apparent; Ben Howard's music style had dramatically changed. A bold move. Did it pay off? Not exactly, the reviews for the album were average at best. NME took a good stab and slammed the album down, barring one track on the album. The album was met with mixed reactions by fans.
After listening to the album for the first time, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t impressed. It was a gamble that barely paid off. Only 2 tracks stood out to me during my first listen of the album. Odd, as a fan I usually connect with Ben Howard's music almost instantly. Months go by and every so often I listen to the album and see if it connects with me, it does not.
Time goes by and the album comes and goes every few months until it clicks!
One afternoon in Australia I take my chances shuffling through music on Spotify, Noonday Dream comes up as a suggestion. I put in my earphones and turn it up loud. The opening track enters my ears and suddenly I’m drawn to the album. I listen to the album in full, I finally connected with the album. It’s different, exciting, and Ben Howard showing his audience that not only has he matured as a songwriter, but he has also created his unique intimate style.
If you want my honest opinion, the last track is still shit.
So, why the sudden change in liking this album? It’s better to view Ben Howard as the person he is today rather than the person he was back in 2011 after the release of Every Kingdom. The surfer borderline Jack Johnson/Xavier Rudd image associated with Every Kingdom has long gone. Ben has evolved and so has his music; Noonday Dream reflects the evolution in his music. It’s a big gamble to change your genre in the music industry, but a ballsy one at that.
Watch a few live performances on YouTube and see how much Noonday Dream holds its weight. The set up has changed, it is no longer based on fan favourites and sing-along songs. The performances feel more like a transition throughout the setlist, similar to that of Grouper. It’s hypnotic, dreamlike, and creating an experience from start to finish. Ben Howard's live performances hold more ambience which when reflected with Noonday Dream, sets the tone perfectly for both artist and audience.
Noonday Dream shouldn’t be treated as the latest album when compared to Ben Howard’s previous albums, they almost fit in different genres. Treat Noonday Dream as a progression in how Ben Howard truly wants to be heard. It seems apparent that he wants to slide more into an ambient/intimate Bon Iver with a twist. There are still elements of his roots within his music, there are moments where Noonday Dream can reconnect the listener to previous albums.
If you are not swayed by Noonday Dream, I encourage you to watch a few recent live performances then play the album again. This is the next step in Ben Howard's career and from the sounds of it, it’s here to stay. The old albums were great, however, after the 4th or 5th album of staying in that style, it would eventually get old. Noonday Dream is creative, intriguing musically, and a unique sequence that doesn’t sound similar to any other album out there.