Album review: Ben Howard – ‘Collections From The Whiteout’: engrossing, tragic stories on his best yet

WHAT a day it is for Ben Howard as he returns with Collections From The Whiteout – an album rich in engrossing stories and full-bodied instrumentals.

Critically acclaimed English singer-songwriter Ben has created his fourth studio album in a run beginning with 2011’s Every Kingdom. It’s a 14-track album that appears simple to the naked eye but is a display of the artist’s incredible ability to creatively recount morbid stories but make them sound heavenly.

Collections From The Whiteout is enriched with simple lyrics and joyous instrumentals, but the album is not an easy listen, unlike like his most popular and love-ballad filled album: Every Kingdom. It is instead a thought-provoking listen, a collection of different stories and a strong contender to be one of his most interesting albums yet.

In this album, you can see where the Devon-born musician’s influences come into play with his writing. Neil Young and James Taylor are two songwriters Howard has cited as his inspirations, and tracks like “The Strange Last Flight Of Richard Russell” are a more modern version of a story like Neil Young’s “Old Man”.

Instead of the love stories that can be found on his previous works, embedded in every song is a story that was written based on a headline that caught Ben’s eye. As a whole the stories appear unrelated, but the album is a journey through a multitude of stories with one common denominator – tragic endings. “Crowhurst’s Meme” is about the death of an amateur round-the-world sailor; “The Strange Death Of Richard Russell” about a young American who stole a plane in Seattle and committed suicide, and “Finders Keepers”, about ‘the dismembered body of a friend of his father found in a suitcase floating along the Thames. This concept shows how Ben Howard has evolved since songs like “Promise”, on Every Kingdom.

On first listening the album feels like a melodious folk album with more instrumentals than usual but a deeper knowledge of the context makes for a more interesting and haunting listen.

Like many albums emerging at the moment, you could assume that it was a lockdown record; however when speaking to Annie Mac on Radio One, Ben explained this wasn’t the case; “Lockdown was actually right at the very end. [..] It was pretty much done and dusted by then, we sort of basically got the last flight out of America.

“We have been sitting on the record for a long time. It’s been difficult to know what to do with it.”

Collections From The Whiteout was produced by Aaron Dessner, who is best known for working with Taylor Swift and Bon Iver and has previously worked with Ben too. This could answer why the album, whilst being so different in content to his previous three still maintains Ben’s quality and is recognisable to fans.

Collections From The Whiteout is a true keeper for fans of Ben Howard; it’s his best work yet. He has found his true musical niche in creative storytelling and it’s proof he’s one of the best songwriters of our time.

Ben Howard’s Collections From The Whiteout will be released by Island digitally, on CD and on trad black and limited clear vinyl this Friday, March 26th; you can order your copy from Rough Trade, here.

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