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Ben Howard had an almost impossible rise during the course of his debut LP, Every Kingdom. From his humble, invisible-on-the-street beginnings, to him gallivanting around festival main stages across the world, selling dozerfuls of records and charting high with essentially everything he lobbed into the ether, he's one of folk-pop's recent success stories, alongside Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran.

Fortunately, that's where the comparisons cease to those two artists. Where Sheeran sold his soul almost the second he was offered a record contract, and the less said about the Mumfs the better, Howard - though it's surely a point to be argued - has integrity, dignity and has retained his artistic prowess.

Howard disappeared, or tried his best to, after the Every Kingdom came to an end, and after he'd surreptitiously slithered out a brooding caveat, the Burgh Island EP. It hinted at a tonal shift akin to tectonic plates rumbling; evaporating were the thundering, Zeus-like choruses and chant-along motifs we'd all come to know and equate to Marmite. Fragility was the name of the game; dynamics were in play a heckuva lot more. Howard was either rallying against his newfound image, shedding his skin as an artist, or simply growing bored of strumming out the same "Keep Your Head Up" every six hours. Whatever the case, it was the sonic equivalent of dying your locks black, wearing more eyeliner than Alice Cooper and swanning about in your best Trivium T-shirt.

For his super-anticipated sophomore album, Howard appears to have taken inspiration from The Walking Dead; that is, he's wandered into mournful, apocalyptic country that feasts of desolation, suspense and your very soul. 'Small Things' evokes visions of Darryl being eviscerated by Walkers. It's a lumbering, morose dirge with echo-ey expanses of guitar and slippery riffery. 'Old Pine', this is not.

It's not all dusty Americana, but the tone lingers. This is a complex tapestry of an album, charting the course of life's foibles, and lamenting all of love's labours, loss and lust. Rarely is it as uplifting as his debut, but it's often as anthemic, and nurtures an ember of depth that may have been glossed over before.

'Time Is Dancing' sees fingerpicked melodies cavort with ambient pads; 'Conrad' embarks on a soul-searching walkabout through the rushes and cattails of swampy lowlands; 'End Of The Affair' is a sprawling, 7 1/2 minute fray dotted with emotional abrasions and outbursts of Nick Mulvey-type percussion. Howard's efforts aren't nuggets of agate pop - they don't leap out, but they do burrow deep.

Of course, this major detraction from his polished pop timbre may not sit well with the throngs of fans he found via chart-poised means. On one hand, this may not be as commercially successful - though it'll certainly chart high (it's currently battling for the top spot at the time of writing) - but on the other, it's just a considerably better record. Given that Every Kingdom was actually pretty good, that makes this quite the album.

Still, people will manage to find issues, surely. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift: "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate..."

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