Ben Howard
I Forget Where We Were


4.5
superb

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
November 3rd, 2014 | 199 replies


Release Date: 2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I may be troubled, but I'm gracious in defeat.

Of all the heartfelt pleas for understanding to be found on I Forget Where We Were, none are more moving than the most direct and plain of all: "I was born to lie/Prove me wrong, prove me wrong." While most of the album seems to take an uncomfortably too-familiar shape as messages from a troubled mind for the ears of loved ones (which range from desperate to resigned to furious), I Forget Where We Were is ultimately an album made for no-one but the singer-songwriter himself. It is an album that disregards catchiness, familiarity and warmth, the very things which made Howard notable in the first place, for a coldness that is both detached and uncomfortably close. And if there's a single message or morale to be gathered here that is meant for anyone except Ben Howard, it's that loneliness and disassociation can dull even the sharpest of minds, and darken even the brightest melody.

It's hard to imagine I Forget Where We Were having a more fitting album art than it already does. The classic symbol of standing half in light and half in shadow communicates more than any other the simple truth that drives this sophomore release: "I am not feeling okay." The music from the get-go does not shy away from reflecting this: Howard's gorgeous guitar tone is frequently the only source of familiarity or comfort within the music, backed as it is by almost non-existent bass and drums. Even the songs where Howard breaks out his signature acoustic guitar refuse to fall within the realm of upbeat music, with "In Dreams" opting for an urgent pace to mirror the near-frantic state of mind whilst "Evergeen" slows the pace of the album to a resigned crawl. The higher pitched vocals of Every Kingdom are now a thing of the past, replaced by a lower, more self-contained delivery which oscillates between pained and defeated. Howard's vocal delivery is far from perfect, yet it is the imperfections where we see him at the most honest; like the ever-so-slight, yet infinitely telling voice break on "End of the Affair"'s "Now I watch her/Running round in love again" chorus. From front to back, I Forget Where We Were is for every second uncompromising and honest in its mission statement: that this is not the Ben Howard you used to know.

There is perhaps no better indicator of this change than the distant, claustrophobic masterpiece that is "Time is Dancing". The melody of "Hold it in, now let's go dancing/I do believe we're only passing through" is of itself catchy and memorable enough to suggest lead single potential. Yet while the 2011 Ben Howard – that's the bright-eyed, inviting, welcoming "Keep Your Head Up" Ben Howard – would likely have set this melody to a bouncy acoustic guitar riff, with maybe some sing-along-with-me gang vocals and hand claps, we are not dealing with the 2011 Ben Howard. The 2014 version seems all too aware of mishaps of the past. With a seeming iron-clad determination to distance himself from the chart-toppers of his past, this Ben Howard drowns the catchy chorus melody in a murky, impenetrable sea of distorted guitar, propelled by only the simplest of drumbeats. Not only does this treatment allow the near-seven minute tune to reach its full potential, the detachment afforded by the distance of the melody somehow makes it all the more poignant and touching. Lines that may have seemed a little too bright-eyed with an acoustic guitar lifting them up are instead transformed into biting, cynical pieces: "Wired again, now look who's laughing/You again, oh you oh you oh you."

It speaks to the cohesion of I Forget Where We Were as a whole that the lyrics are tailored to suit the directness of the music, or perhaps vice versa. In either case, both operate on the assumption that less is more and the simpler the better. It is this stark simplicity that drives every song and allows Howard to reveal his true potential as an artist and lyricist. While most of the lyrics fall under either resigned or purely depressed, it is in the heart-racing final section of "End of the Affair" where Howard allows himself to be shown at his most honest – and with that honesty comes nothing but anger. In testament to the simpler is better motto, the album's best and most emotional moment is direct and unmistakeably plain: "This is it/This is just it/Go to him/What the hell, love?/What the hell?" Vocally, we see a side of Howard that is entirely new: aggressive, powerful, really pissed off. The vocals are faint and soaked in echo, almost as if Howard is (very understandably) hesitant to show his emotions so plainly on record for every listener to see, but we see it all the same. "In Dreams"' final statement of "I may be troubled, but I'm gracious in defeat" is above all a perfect indicator of Howard's willingness to take the risk of putting his feelings on record in such a final, irreversable way. He may be troubled, he may be frightened of the world or just of himself, and he may be nauseated by his own lies. But if there's one thing that Ben Howard definitely is, above all else, it's honest.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This has already had plenty of great reviews by better writers than myself but I thought I'd give my two cents anyway, need to get back into the swing of doing reviews and such. Hopefully I've avoided verbosity and run-on sentences for once

Cygnatti
November 3rd 2014


32930 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

love you, rowan, but this probs sucks.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah you'd probably dislike it (DO YOU EVEN LIKE MUSIC WOW SMH ETC) still thanks for reading my review buddy < 3

Son of Mr. Pain
November 3rd 2014


24923 Comments


Fuck it. I went ahead and read. You're improving a lot as a writer dude. This may be your most cohesive review I've read. Hard pos. May check this.

Cygnatti
November 3rd 2014


32930 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i dig the review. pos'd ^_^

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks man. Went for a simple, no bs review because it seems to fit the style of the album, plus I've been trying to cut down on my verbosity for like, 10 reviews now. Hopefully there's some distinct progress happening there. Also yeah, jam it bro

Son of Mr. Pain
November 3rd 2014


24923 Comments


"Hopefully there's some distinct progress happening there"

There is. Keep it up.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

(thumbs up symbol) you're the best, dude

00mee
November 3rd 2014


254 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Excellent review, particularly those opening few paragraphs. I feel you overstate how much Howard's changed between albums, but this is really comprehensive and (IMO) a better understanding of Howard's sound.



I do feel this album isn't entirely saddening and dark, 'Conrad''s opening guitar lick being an example.



Hard Pos!!

00mee
November 3rd 2014


254 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Also 'end of the affair' is bearing SOTY for me

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks buddy. I really feel that way though, he's like a completely different artist to my ears, and much much better than he was

And you're right, I did focus a lot of the sad parts and Conrad is quite beautiful (although the lyrics still aren't exactly happy) but I was trying to keep this review short so I unfortunately didn't get time to mention that

Agreed hard there, superb song in every way

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

You mean it wasn't quite positive enough for a 4.5? Hmm that's something to think about. Thanks Arcadius Maximus

DirEnRefused
November 3rd 2014


3574 Comments


only heard Rivers in Your Mouth so far but that is most definitely a jam.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@Arcade you're pretty much the president of Sputnik these days so it's only fitting

@Dir Give Small Things a whirl for the best indication of the album as a whole

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

You're the hero we deserve

zakalwe
November 3rd 2014


29106 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

An album which disregards familiarity, catchiness and warmth sounds like my cup of tea.

I haven't listened to this, going to give it a spin.

Nice work Row

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Now I feel like if you hate it it will all be my fault, damn. I got myself into this

Still, thanks for checking the review man

ScuroFantasma
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


11746 Comments


great review Rowan, pos'd hard

Digging: Mercyful Fate - Melissa

dimsim3478
November 3rd 2014


8504 Comments


ah as always, fantastic review row. you've got my vote for contrib.

Digging: teto - ?????????

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2014


42719 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks friend-os! I'm running out of ways to say thanks to people, so uhh, you're great guys and I love you



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