Review Summary: A collage of moments both fleeting and everlasting
Everything about the way that Noonday Dream
visually represents itself is accurate. The dusty, barren artwork parallels its sense of isolation, while the title depicts the kind of nomadic drifts that characterize each song. On the heels of two vastly successful albums – Every Kingdom
and I Forget Where We Were
– this record is notably humble. The anthemic qualities of Ben Howard’s last effort have been willingly abandoned in favor of more muted concepts…like waves lapping up against a boat, distant conversations, or a flag flapping steadily in the wind as a storm moves in. Noonday Dream
is an atmospheric experience that recalls a variety of moments in nature – from the secluded and serene to the harsh and unforgiving. It’s a beautiful progression for Howard, and one that etches his name even higher up on the artistic totem pole.
“It’s so peaceful here, no one to fuck it up”, Howard quietly mutters on the closing ‘Murmurations’, before stamping the final verse with, “I could see through miles, miles.” It feels like he is slowly being swept up into the ocean – fading, fading
, until it sounds like his voice has vanished into the surrounding air. The drums ramp up just ever so slightly, and the outro becomes awash in this warm, acoustic reverb until there is nothing but silence. As an ending, it’s perfect. However, it’s even more indicative of Noonday Dream
as a whole – a record that tends to shrink inward, fade, or retreat more than it bursts, peaks, or does anything that could be considered showy. Even at its most agitated – the cutting, electric riffs in the closing minutes of ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’ – the record seems to arrive at its moments in a state of acceptance and understanding. At its warmest, the album is melodic and vaguely romantic, like the echoed warbling on ‘Towing the Line’ can attest to: “Love is in the early mornings / In the shadows under the trees... Down here I crow for you / You crow for me.” Noonday Dream
unfurls like its title suggests, deftly yet unpredictably weaving between all things earthly and ethereal.
Despite the way that Noonday Dream
advances – a steady stream of subconscious impulses – it’s hardly translucent. The majority of the album feels planted in the Earth, grounded in reality. Every note trickles off Howard’s fingertips from his acoustic guitar, each drum beat is like a heavy boot landing on a dirt-covered rock, kicking dust up into the summer heat. While it occasionally looks to the stars, pondering questions of time (“Now, is there a now？”/ “Forever, such a beautiful thing”) and mortality (the eerie ‘Someone in The Doorway’), these are the ruminations of a man sitting on a grassy hill, not jettisoning off into space. That makes this record no less beautiful though, and if anything makes it more real. The pain and darkness confronted on Noonday Dream
are all too relatable (“I am not ready to die”…“Why are we all so miserable？Well, that's right! Nobody ever comes back…”), which places it starkly at the forefront of Howard’s lyrical accomplishments as well.
If Howard’s third album suffers anything, it’s withdrawal from the tuneful inclinations that made I Forget Where We Were
such an accessible, widely celebrated work. Noonday Dream
is worth celebrating in a different sense. It’s Ben Howard doubling down on ambiance, creating a collage of moments both fleeting and everlasting while choosing the art of the craft over the simplest path to accolades. It may take more time to appreciate, but it’s a masterclass of songwriting that will likely dictate the future direction of his music.