“Becoming a Jackal” is not necessarily an immediate smash hit; it insinuates rather than sweeps away. Never is it uninteresting, however, and I mean that quite literally, in a moment to moment way. Great hooks are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but songs can sometimes coast a bit too much in between the hooks, not to mention that sometimes it’s a fine line between hook-y and facile, never mind hook-y and annoying. (You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever gotten a song stuck in your head that you don’t even like.) So there’s definitely a place in my pop universe for songs like this that use well-crafted indirectness, unexpected twists, and tension-building restraint to gain your trust and devotion.
Sink into the song’s small moments, let them float by and gain strength, notice the subtle shifts in accompaniment, and eventually a few become their own, quirky sorts of non-hooky hooks. The recurring phrase “I was a dreamer” at the beginning of the not-very-chorus-like chorus may be the first that sticks but a number of other melodic motifs grow in stature as the song unfolds. I like the one that first comes, at 0:26, with the lyrics “in the scene between the window frames”; when we hear it (I think for the third time) at 2:21, with the lyrics “you should wonder what I’m taking from you,” it sounds like a climactic moment, but only because of how artfully we’ve arrived there.
Villagers is the name Dubliner Conor J. O’Brien has given to his musical project, which is kind of a band but kind of not a band. “Become a Jackal” is the title track to the debut album, to be released next month on Domino Records. MP3 via Domino.