Coming off Villagers' highly touted, Mercury Prize-nominated debut, 2010's Becoming a Jackal, singer/songwriter Conor J. O'Brien updated his group's atmospheric baroque pop sound with the addition of various synthesizers and drum machines, as well as creative collaboration with a working group of bandmates. Subsequently, Villagers' sophomore album, 2013's wayland, was an even more robust, sonically layered production. Rather than sticking with a more-is-more approach, O'Brien has taken the exact opposite tack for his third album, 2015's Darling Arithmetic, forgoing a group sound and instead working once again as a true solo act. To this end, Darling Arithmetic is possibly even more insular than Becoming a Jackal, with O'Brien largely favoring acoustic guitar, piano, and softly sung lyrics ripe with the scent of a relationship in trouble. In "Everything I Am Is Yours," he sings "I am just a man/Tipping on a wire/Tightrope walking fool/Balanced on desire/I cannot control/These ever-changing ways/So how can I be sure/The feeling will remain/It'll always change." This skeptical desire for love is echoed later in "Hot Scary Summer," as he addresses problems with a possible lover with "So you thank me for my hard work/But you've had it up to there/'Cause this shouldn't be hard work/But I'll fight to care if you'd care to fight." Musically, much -- if not all -- of Darling Arithmetic is pitched at a slow, dream-inducing pace and, while lushly recorded, feels smaller in scope than even Villagers' debut. Admittedly, these are also slower-burning compositions that lack the hooks and pop immediacy of much of Villagers' previous work. Ultimately, however, the pulling back feels intentional and fitting for an album of songs that always seem born out of O'Brien's most personal experiences. As he sings on "The Soul Serene," "So I go walking on the shore/And I wonder what I'm walking for...and I find chameleon dreams in my mind."
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar