Sat comfortably between the acoustic, summer optimism of Jack Johnson and the bleaker intricacies of Damien Rice is Ben Howard’s debut album, Every Kingdom.
Thankfully, it’s a fresh sound that the Devonshire based singer-songwriter brings to the already oversaturated market.
Opening track ‘Old Pine’ begins delicately; gorgeously simple guitar riffs and placid vocals float around with no complex production or unnecessary noise to distract from the soulful lyrics, before reaching an energetic climax.
And this is what Howard does so perfectly throughout the record; he bounces between timid beauty and frenetic, stomping anthems with impressive confidence.
Early track ‘Diamonds’ is a perfect example of this as it builds from its brooding verses to the singalong, radio friendly chorus. It’s also one of the strongest examples of Howard’s folk influence, which permeates the entire record.
One of the greatest achievements is how Howard is able to give the album a strong sense of identity through his repeated use of choral backing, dexterous guitar playing and discrete percussion, without ever making it sound dull or unoriginal.
To pick out any one moment as a high point is next to impossible on a record that rarely falters. Recent single ‘Keep Your Head Up’, though tells tales of such dizzying optimism, accompanied by spiralling guitar melodies which erupts with stunning force that it deserves recognition.
‘Gracious’ and ‘Black Flies’ demonstrate the album’s more introverted side. Both tracks are so sparse and open that it’s difficult to not empathise with the sense of isolation. This sense of isolation is further conveyed through the lyrics in ‘Black Flies’; “You were an ocean / when I was just a storm.”
Every Kingdom is a stunning debut from the surf-loving southerner.