On the 26th of March, Ben Howard released his latest album Collections From The Whiteout. This is the fourth LP from the British singer-songwriter and it is definitely one of the highlights of the Covid-19 period. It has been recorded at three different locations; Devon, Paris and New York and it was produced by Aaron Dessner (The National, Taylor Swift). The record was released via Republic Records. Acoustic sounds and electronics equally dominate the record’s sonic identity and this kind of hybrid instrumentation in the tracks make the LP distinctive, compared to Ben Howard’s previous records.
I have already written a review of ‘Crowhurst’s Meme’ which is the third track of the album but it has already been released earlier as a single in February. Back then I claimed that the general sound of that single gave listeners impressions and sort of hints about what can be expected from the album. It turned out to be true because the electronic sounds hugely dominate the sonic identity of the whole album. They make the record sound vivid and even though Ben Howard’s musical, artistic style is recognisable and similar to the previous releases of his, yet the newly used effects and electronics definitely add another colour to it. These can be heard in tracks like ‘Finders Keepers’, ‘Sorry Kid’, ‘The Strange Last Flight of Richard Russell’. Via these electronic sounds and effects, the record picks up attributes of psychedelics sonically that definitely shapes the mood of the album, making it dreamy and spacious.
However, there are other songs on the album like ‘Rookery’ or ‘You Have Your Way’ that might remind us of Ben Howard’s previous records which in acoustic sounds were dominant. ‘Rookery’ took me back in time and reminded me of the old-pine era of Howard. ‘Rookery’ has significant lightness and brightness within sonically and the lead acoustic guitar makes it sound natural and earthy that were always an attribute of Howard’s sonic identity. ‘You Have Your Way’ is similar to ‘Black Flies’, in terms of sound and the solid drums push it towards the alternative rock genre, in my opinion.
Production & Instrumentation
The production work is executed professionally, credits go to Aaron Dessner. The mix of the record is well-balanced, electronics are used creatively that only make the album more versatile sonically. Instrumentation of it is hybrid, combining electric instruments and effects with acoustic ones. Reverbs and delays make the vocals sound dreamy and spacious, furthermore, the vocal style Ben Howard uses is quite similar to Jose Gonzalez’s. In addition, the electric drums show influences of Atoms For Peace and Thom Yorke. Synthesisers also play a major role in shaping the record sonically. But besides electronics, acoustic guitar tracks and drums can also be heard on the record.
This is why I think Ben Howard walks the line brilliantly here. His new album Collections From The Whiteout contains sonic marks and elements that can be found on his earlier records, but the bold move of using significant amounts of electronics push the record towards a new artistic style and direction. It also reveals that Howard has no such intentions as repeating himself artistically. A new record must be a new way, a new message, a new colour on the canvas. Something that people have not heard yet.
I believe this is the only way for artists to come up with an original, unique sound. This is basically the point of diving into art, in my opinion and Ben Howard has succeeded with it, Collections From The Whiteout is a mixture of alternative-rock, electronic and indie-folk music and it is a very nice comeback from the bard of Devonshire.
Album Rating: 4,5/5