Ben Howard has made a complete transition from the radio-friendly folk anthem crooner that packed out festivals seven years ago to a full blooded crafter of intricately layered songs. The musicianship and introspection was always there from his debut and truly began to blossom on second album I Forget Where We Were; now four years later its come to a head with exquisite results.
Howard's knack for the solid pillar of a beautiful melody remains, but the manner in which he constructs these songs has matured immeasurably. "Nica Libres at Dusk" opens his latest album Noonday Dream, and provides the sincerest illustration of Howard's -- if not new -- then ever diverging direction. A characteristic finger-picked motif and contemplative lyricism on our place in the natural order of things form the core, but the track swells and strays with haunting hypnotism. Echoing guitars cry out like the eagles of its lyrics and layered blankets of soft ambience imbue it with elegant calm.
"Now I'm older, I don't look over my shoulder; I know what is there in front of me," he sings. Howard seems to be a man, not regretful of his past, but certain his past fame cannot define him. His songs are becoming more and more individual in their atmosphere, expansive yet intimate. They feel like a natural product of his inner state of being -- and the measure of growth means they are all the better for it. Noonday Dream is out now through Island Records and "Nica Libres at Dusk" is its gorgeous opener.