A good second album is like a good souffle. Many try and fail to get it right, falling to the wayside in a deflated heap of molten cakey stuff. But once in a generation, there rises one golden second album, strong and delicious, springy to the touch and delicately laced with icing sugar that will make you weep tears in gratitude of the dessert gods.
Cake metaphors aside, Ben Howard's second album I Forget Where We Were is a shining example of how to follow up a breakthrough debut with material that is damn close to perfection for its genre.
For Ben, that breakthrough was 2011's Every Kingdom, and boy howdy what a breakthrough it was. Seeing him go from packing out mid sized venues to a household name with the help of over 1 million record sales, a Mercury Music Prize nomination and two Brit Awards for British Breakthrough and British Solo Male Artist, it's safe to say that I Forget Where We Were has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Luckily for the fans (give or take 7 billion of us), I Forget Where We Were is a perfect example of how not to make a hot mess of a sophomore. In new tracks like "Conrad", Ben manages to re-capture the charming personality of tracks "Old Pine" and "Keep Your Head Up", whilst mixing in entirely new flavours that add an interesting mix of dark optimism to the traditional singer/ songwriter setup. In 2012 we began to get a taste of what might come with Every Kingdom's follow up, The Burgh Island EP, which served as a notably somber and more brooding heir to its big brothers throne. "To Be Alone" and title track "Burgh Island" used subtle notes of austerity and obscurity that have now matured into a fully formed united identity on "Evergreen" and my personal favourite "Rivers In My Mouth".
From the opening few bars of lead track "Small Things" we see Ben's distinctive picking patterns evolve with washed out and reserved bluesy bends, which compliment the hallowed vocal lines throughout. It's not until the track kicks into gear in the final third that we really start to get a taste of what I Forget Where We Were is offering up. Ben has always used the guitar as more than a stringed instrument - generating as much percussion as he does melody, managing to take it to the next level on every occasion, which we see culminating in the epic single "End of the Affair" as a perfect example of what has changed in three years. There are however still hints of the Ben Howard we fell in love with on country infused "In Dreams" and "She Treats Me Well", which feels like Ray LaMontagne circa 2004's Trouble.
Ultimately, I Forget Where We Were will see Ben Howard take the reigns of the singer/ songwriter bandwagon. There's nothing even remotely as epic and audacious yet fundamentally intimate as this album on the market. If you make one musical purchase this year, you'd be hard pressed to find as good a listen as this, and I think that may be true for some time to come.