Ben Howard is wonderful.

I’m cheating on my own (poorly established) rule and posting some introspectives on a Wednesday.

Usually when I’m studying or working on homework, I find that it’s difficult to focus when there’s music with lyrics in the background, because I wind up listening to (and singing along with) the familiar words instead of focusing on the task at hand. So I mostly opt for post-rock or other ambient, instrumental music, which fills the silence nicely.

For some reason though, I can listen to Ben Howard’s entire album, “Every Kingdom”, on endless repeat while working and find no distraction. But it’s hardly just space-filler; I really think it’s a terrific album when I actually fully focus on listening to it as well. I can’t put a finger on why this particular music is perfect for both background AND foreground noise, but I think it is.

I first discovered Ben Howard when his song “Promise” was used in an episode of House, M.D… I dig a good song placement in TV shows (who doesn’t really?). This one starts all quiet and airy (actually the track is basically silent until 30 seconds in), but I love how it picks up with a little more purpose in the later refrains, punctuated by his percussive guitar strumming. After I obsessed with this song for awhile, I bought the whole album, which was deservingly nominated for the Mercury Prize (the British Album of the Year award) in 2012.

It didn’t take me long to decide that the whole album was brilliant, and I’m having trouble even picking 2 or 3 more songs to feature here…

“Under the Same Sun” is a little more upbeat but has some similar features: Nifty guitar work, a chill and introspective feel, and poetic lyrics laced with meaning. I’m particularly fond of the fade-out at the bridge and the “coda” at the end.

“Only Love” was getting some US radio airplay in the last year or so, at least on SiriusXM AltNation. It’s a bit more radio-ready, with more of a soft rock feel than the moody singer/songwriter style of some of his others. The drumset pulse in the background keeps you tapping your toes and bouncing along more so than with his quieter stuff. But even if it’s more conventional-sounding, I don’t think it’s much of a departure from the rest of the album.

One more, and I really love this one for the lyrics. You can visualize the tent in the woods, the jokes and stories around a bonfire, the drinks and dancing, as he weaves a simple tale of a campout with great friends. How great is the line “hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags”? “Old Pine” always makes me smile and recall memories of experiences like the ones he describes.

All in all, “Every Kingdom” is full of warm and happy-hearted music from a very talented musician and songwriter. I’ll continue listening to this one over and over, no matter whether I’m in the middle of a long road trip or a long study session.

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~ by Marcus on 01/22/2014.

Come at me, bro.

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