Wednesday, March 10, 2021

“Where does all the time go?” - Ben Howard’s new single ‘What A Day’ offers up an antidote to lockdown blues

‘What A Day’ is the first single from Ben Howard’s fourth studio album, ‘Collections from the Whiteout’, which is set to arrive on 26th March via Island Records.

Three years after Howard’s more experimental ‘Noonday Dream Album’, this new track feels closer to its warm, summary predecessor ‘Every Kingdom’. 

Despite the song’s winter release date, it makes me nostalgic for holidays on the coast and listening to songs like ‘Old Pine’ and ‘Only Love’ with my friends on the beach as a teenager. ‘What A Day’ can’t be described as wholly commercial, but it is equally a lot easier for new listeners to appreciate than the tracks of Howard’s more musically complex ‘Noonday Dream’.

Howard revealed to NME that ‘Collections from the Whiteout’ is the first time he will be opening the door to outside production. The album was produced with The National’s Aaron Dessner, who has been praised for his work on Taylor Swift’s recent albums ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’. 

‘What A Day’ is a semi-acoustic track that feels light, warm and upbeat - but in a distant, dream-like sort of way. Howard’s voice, which sounds as good as it ever has, is detached and far away, interjecting with what appear to be casual musings as the music beats on.

This rather elusive narrator seems to leave a lot up to the listener, dropping in the occasional piece of vivid imagery like ‘heavy with the sound of breaking mirrors’. These juxtapositions leave us to wonder if the chilled, summer vibe at the song’s surface really matches what sits as its core. The title ‘What A Day’ is also quite open-ended. We have to fill in the blanks for what kind of day the narrator is describing, and are left to imagine what that day might entail.

When I first listened to the song, a gently insistent electronic drum beat took me by surprise, although it only took a couple more bars for the familiar layers of acoustic guitar to kick in and recapture that nostalgic warmth that Howard is so expert in crafting.

The steady beat of the programmed drums matched with the sound of acoustic guitar strings being hit is what prevents the song from sounding too meandering, helping it to keep its direction as it builds, with the addition of a few light strings and woodwind instruments. 

Given the song’s quite repetitive style and 5 minute run-time, it would be reasonable to expect a slightly more grand climax around the three-quarter mark, but perhaps that would have taken away from some of the song’s carefully constructed passivity. 

The song’s cyclical structure and lyrics like “what a day to go around” instantly evoke the strange, repetitive haze that seems to have befallen a lot of us in lockdown. You have to wonder how much of the song is influenced by this period of isolation, where nothing feels quite real and the feeling of deja vu is ever-present. 

“Where does all the time go?” - that’s certainly something we can all relate to right now.

‘Collections from the Whiteout’ is a striking album title in itself. A whiteout is described as ‘a weather condition that obscures contours and landmarks with snow so that they become almost indistinguishable’. To that end, could this title refer to the metaphorical snowstorm that has over-cast all of our lives for the past year? Perhaps all will become clear when the full list of songs is released.

Certainly, the desire to break free and escape into nature is a theme that returns throughout the lyrics of this track. The singer describes ‘missing light dance around a pale blue sky’ and also mentions how ‘the sun came out and it was taking, breaking me out’. Towards the end of the song, we hear the repeated lyric ‘our hands clawing up against the light, it's nearing’. You can feel the hope radiating from Howard’s words here, as though through listening, we can almost feel the sunlight on our faces again. 

For fans of Howard who haven’t really taken much of a deep dive into his music since ‘Every Kingdom’, I would recommend ‘What A Day’ as a great place to start.


Hannah McGreevy

Instagram: @HannahPalindromic

Twitter: @HannahIMcGreevy


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