If someone had only heard the hit single ‘Only Love’ off Ben Howard’s debut Every Kingdom, it would be easy to dismiss him as one of the many simplistic indie folk artists that spawned in the wake of Mumford Mania. However, to compare Ben Howard to that crop of artists is truly a disservice to his talent and scope as a songwriter. On songs such as 2011’s ‘Black Flies’, he created beautifully unique soundscapes full of genuine emotion and heart. Though Howard is no stranger to the upbeat poppy folk single, ‘Keep Your Head Up’ was not only an incredible catchy song but fit comfortably among the diverse set of anthems on Every Kingdom.

However, on his sophomore LP, he moved away from this single driven formula and focused on writing progressive (and even ambient-esque) heartbreak songs. I Forget Where We Were showcased how deep and complex his instrumental ability could become, it was an album that showed that Howard could develop tightly written tracks that stuck to a bleak concept.

Now, on his 3rd album, Howard lets inventively produced instrumentals lead the way, still paired with his signature emotive vocals. In short, he takes the most effective elements from his first two albums and elevates them.

From the opening track, Noonday Dream feels cinematic and bold, like a soundtrack to a film about a castaway's life on a desolate island. Fitting with the title of the album, each song takes a dreamier, shoegaze influenced approach to his usual folk structure. With a large 4-year gap between albums it is clear that time and care have been infused into every single track. Whereas tracks on his first two albums would often blend together, each song on Noonday Dream has a distinct identity. Ben Howard also draws new influence to progress his sound substantially. On the beat-driven dreampop ballad 'The Defeat,' He pairs live drums with synths and acoustic guitar. The track builds an intensity adding sound upon sound as it progresses culminating in a chaotic climax. Though the chaos somehow is not jarring in the calm context of the album. Which for the most part finds it’s most effective moments in the slower quieter pieces of instrumentation.

Slower moments like the crawling climb of 'Boat to an Island Pt 2/Agatha’s Song' which on paper is just timid guitar strums over ambient drones. But Howard takes influence from post-rock and carves sonic detail into every moment. As the drones becomes louder, they sound vast and heavenly, like a set of rapture horns. It is just one of the almost indescribable moments that staples Howard above a lot of his folk contemporaries. Though still using calm, breezy acoustic guitar throughout, moments on Noonday Dream feel urgent. The opener ‘Nica Libre at Dusk’ combines a Jack Johnson-esque guitar riff, with harmonized electronic vocals. Vocals that sing some of Howards most uncomfortable lyrics to date. “Doors are locked, my gums are bleeding, outside she’s reading evacuation procedures” Seeming to describe a woman dreaming of escape from a dire circumstance. As the song continues, these disconcerting lyrics are paired with reverb screech sounds that add to the discomfort of the track. A discomfort that is subtle and contrasts the overall relaxed aesthetic of Howard’s music. Especially as the track devolves into an easy going piano-guitar pairing, which begins the daydream. Though the album is anything but easy going, there is a distinct anxiety lurking in the edges of the record.

Immediately after this first song, the lyrics and tone of the album seem to change, taking a more surreal approach to each song. It’s as if the rest of album takes place in a dreamy wonderland, an otherworldly escape. But The finger-prints of a stressful reality from the first track remains hovering throughout the album. ‘Boat to an Island on the Wall’ starts with a nightmarish buzzing sound but quickly makes way for another one of the albums fantastic quiet entries. Howard also implements many production flourishes that add to the dreamlike aesthetic of the album. On this track, inaudible chatters sit in the background of Howard’s vocals given it a refrained psychedelic quality. Howard finds beauty in the journey of this song, ending it in an almost unrecognisable place from it’s modest beginning. He uses electric guitar to break the peace of the first half of the song, yet again showcasing the immense range that Howard brings to the album.

Noonday Dream is Ben Howard’s most expansive work yet, combining the dreary doom of I Forgot Where We Were with the desert island folk from his debut. This combination exceeds both his previous records and adds elements Howard had previously left untouched. Adding new genre influences and instrumentation into the mix, showcasing his range. Though it is a more refined and developed sound, it never departs from the style that made his music so appealing in the first place. There are no catchy hooks and it is far from the hit singles that dwelled on Every Kingdom, Yet Howard’s latest still manages to be as memorable. Complex, surreal and divine. Noonday Dream is Ben Howard's best work to date.