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Ben Howard “Noonday Dream”

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Rolling in like fog on the Atlantic, the aptly named Noonday Dream is an inward-looking and unassuming batch of ambient folk songs that still manages to invoke huge vistas. The Brit Award-winning singer/songwriter’s third full-length outing, and his first collection of new material since 2014, the ten-track set was recorded by Howard and frequent collaborator and bandmate Mickey Smith over a two-year span in South West France and South West England. The electronic flourishes that were introduced on I Forget Where We Were are pushed a bit more to the forefront, but Howard’s laconic, deadpan delivery and elegant guitar work constitute Noonday Dream’s foundation. This is widescreen bucolic pop that demands both patience and, if available, a quality set of headphones, as Howard and company have upped their cinematic game. Each song is permitted the legroom to grow organically, and with the exception of “All Down the Mines,” which is billed as an interlude, they clock in at around five to seven minutes long, allowing plenty of time for the listener to succumb to the sonic anesthetic. Opener “Nica Libres at Dark” is the most instantly accessible of the bunch, employing a hypnotic yet engaging melody that suggests the Church by way of James Blake, with the breezy “There’s Your Man” coming in a close second. Elsewhere, the over seven-minute “A Boat to an Island on the Wall,” with its murmuring ambient noises and occasional bursts of background conversation, would almost give off a Final Cut-era Pink Floyd vibe if it weren’t so subtle, and the heartfelt and hazy “Towing the Line” delivers one of Howard’s most engaging melodies to date. Noonday Dream can feel ephemeral at times, but never is it unpleasant, even when it’s fishing for emotional truth in unstable waters. Introspection rarely feels this inclusive.


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