Ben Howard – Collections from the Whiteout
British folk star Ben Howard began his career in a blaze of glory as his 2011 studio debut, Every Kingdom, earned him a Mercury Prize nomination, two BRIT Awards and a UK top ten single in the shape of the ubiquitous Only Love. Listeners to chart-dominated commercial radio might wonder where the singer-songwriter has been, and his fourth album, Collections from the Whiteout, is his latest answer: he’s gone somewhere far more sonically interesting. Produced by Aaron Dessner of The National, who recently won a Grammy for his work on Taylor Swift’s alternative lockdown effort Folklore, Collections from the Whiteout effortlessly combines acoustic guitar, electronica, and piano.
After Follies Fixture, a dreamy hors d’oeuvre of an opening track, things fully kick into gear with lead single What a Day – a love song with echoes of one of Howard’s idols, Nick Drake, but which also sounds fresh and modern. Crowhurst’s Meme begins a string of songs in the ruminative and varied traditions of British folk, continued by Finders Keepers (with echoes of Thom Yorke’s more stripped-back solo work), and then the poppier Far Out, which embraces a more mainstream sound without overwhelming Howard’s delicate voice and musicianship.
Rookery, You Have Your Way, and Sage That She Was Burning provide a more experimental interlude that showcases the artist’s mastery of styles, from acoustic balladry to indie electronica, the latter of the three being particularly arresting.
On the album’s second half, the Londoner also champions another folk tradition: telling quirky tales through music, with Sorry Kid inspired by the case of Anna Sorokin, a Russian woman jailed in New York after a scam in which she posed as a wealthy German heiress. In the same vein is The Strange Last Flight of Richard Russell, a reimagining of the fate of a Seattle airport worker who stole a plane and crashed it into an island.
Another standout, Metaphysical Cantations anchors these flights of fancy with a personal reflectiveness, alongside the melancholic but enjoyable Make Arrangements. The minute-long acoustic ditty Buzzard brings things to a satisfyingly eccentric conclusion.
Howard may no longer be folk’s next big crossover pop star, but Collections from the Whiteout proves the worth of his having taken different path. It’s a record that stays with the listener far longer than the average, overplayed radio-friendly hit.
Collections from the Whiteout is released on 26th March 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Ben Howard’s website here.
Watch the video for the single What a Day here: