When I think of Ben Howard, I remember sixteen-year-old me, full of excitement while ditching school to drive to the House of Blues in Dallas. I see a smokey venue and a single barstool, two guitars off to the side. I hear Howard singing songs off of Every Kingdom and I Forget Where We Were, while a lone spotlight beams down on him. Notorious for his magical guitar playing and melancholy voice, paired with lyrics that provoke both longing and comfort, Howard has come back from the dark since 2014 with a new album in tow. I went into Noonday Dream nervous yet open minded, not wanting to be disappointed by my high expectations.
The opening number is “Nica Libres At Dusk.” Instrumentally, it’s a whirlwind, with his famous guitar playing throughout. Still, this time around, the lyrics are what caught my attention, as he sings, “Door is locked, my gums are bleeding / Outside she reads, outside she’s reading the evacuation procedure out loud.” When I listened to it for the first time, I was met with a wave of longing as I felt every chord he played and every word he sang. Noonday Dream is an emotional album, and the first song captures the theme for what is to come within the next nine tracks.
Halfway through the album is “Someone In The Doorway”. With a bit of a quicker pace and lyrics like “Someone in the doorway, someone in the light / Someone through the wall always, someone left outside,” this song also draws emotions out of me. My heart misses someone for him, and I don’t even know who! Evidently, Howard has mastered the art of transferring his feelings directly into something that is tangible, something that is relatable, and something that can be shared.
Something to be noted, maybe even a fault, is the length of each song. Besides the interlude that’s roughly forty-five seconds long, each track ends up being anywhere from four minutes to nearly eight. Although at a show, lengthy songs are about the fun and the experience, this album may not be your go-to for casual listening. Each song definitely serves a purpose, but, with that being said, it’s definitely rainy day, easy-listening music–music that you have time to sit down, explore, and feel.
In the closing track, “Murmurations,” Howard sings, “Married to the sunshine in my mind, I was floating away / I can see all the flowers in full bloom / I wish I could last and stay.” By the end, I felt both happy and sad, a culmination of all the emotions brought out by the record. I could hear the recognition of beauty, of the good things, but also feelings of missing them and wishing they could remain.
As a whole, Noonday Dreams is an extremely reminiscent album, nothing new for Howard himself, but presented with a whole new feel. This record showcases Howard’s talents not only as a musician, but, for me, as a writer. He combines his poetry and mysterious writing with the heartfelt acoustics we know and love, and the product is this long-awaited album. Although, for me, it may have missed the mark just a tiny bit, I can still acknowledge that Noonday Dreams is a work of art.
WORDS BY EMILY GORDON