I first saw Villagers perform in Austin, Texas, back in March during an outdoor performance at the South by Southwest music festival. The band had just arrived for its first-ever U.S. tour and was greeted by a sudden and unseasonal cold front. By the time frontman Conor O'Brien stepped on stage, the temperature had dropped to the low 40s, with gusty winds and icy rain. But the young singer-songwriter's set was so mesmerizing, the handful of people who braved the weather forgot about everything but the sound of his voice. The music was completely transporting.
Conor O'Brien essentially is Villagers. The Dublin, Ireland, native played nearly all of the instruments on the band's debut album, Becoming a Jackal, and even did the cover artwork. Though he tours with a full backing band, for this Tiny Desk Concert he showed up with just his guitar — and treated the NPR staff to one of the most beautiful and memorable sets we've had here.
O'Brien possesses one of the finest and purest voices around, and his songs are much less predictable than those of most acoustic singer-songwriters, with fresh chord progressions and melodies. His narratives are incredibly compelling and often chilling, even when he's relating a seemingly mundane tale of a man whose bus breaks down on the way out of town ("Twenty Seven Strangers").
You can hear a gorgeous and spare version of "Twenty Seven Strangers" in this Tiny Desk set, along with two other standout songs from Becoming a Jackal: the title track and "Ship of Promises."
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