You know that feeling you used to get when playing ‘pass the parcel’ at birthday parties long-forgotten? As the parcel moves around the circle, away from your grasp, you’re desperately hoping the layers will shed themselves so that, by the time the parcel returns, the prize will be ready for you to snatch. But as the parcel moves ever closer to you, all you want is for the unravelling to prolong itself so that the reveal doesn’t come too soon. This is the exact feeling that Ben Howard’s Noonday Dream invokes: that simultaneous pulling towards and pushing away of the album’s long-awaited contents.
What makes Noonday Dream so precious is that it never reveals itself… not really. As an abundance of dizzying sounds unfurl themselves upon your ears, wave after wave of controlled atmosphere batters you until you slip out into the vastness before you. The songs are long and anthemic, producing expansive soundscapes that contrast to the vocals emerging tentatively from the background. Howard’s voice is subdued, as if he doesn’t want to intrude upon the delicate listening experience he has carved for us. Positioned somewhat left of centre, behind the dusty curtain, Howard’s voice gently guides us into the ether and allows us to drift within the murky waters that Noonday Dream has to offer.
This is drowning. This is gasping for air 12 feet below the surface as the waters slowly freeze around you atom by atom, ripple by unending ripple. The sounds of Howard’s piercing, reverberating guitar and the shrill synth notes sound far away, echoing well above a liquid membrane we cannot hope to permeate. Clarity is denied, but the ambiguity left in its wake is glorious.
As we continue to grow as humans with the stresses of an ever-shifting world, few of us can justify those midday snoozes which the heat of a summer’s day forces us to take. But Howard’s Noonday Dream gives us the perfect excuse; we overslept, we dreamed too long, we “missed the end of the world, and that was just fine”.
It’s a gift that has felt like four years in the making. And although it has finally arrived in our laps, I still feel like it’s being passed around the inner echo chambers of my mind, yet to fully reveal itself.
Image: The Independent