Conor J. O'Brien presented himself as a troubled soul on 2010's debut, Becoming a Jackal, and while this may no longer be the case, it's fair to say he still has a lot on his mind. "You are needing a friend, for to follow, for to fend / And I haven't got a clue if I'm getting through to you, my lighthouse"; so opens his new album, and over a waltzing acoustic guitar and some ghostly harmonies, he invites us into the new found land of his highly-anticipated second album. It begins in such a conventional fashion that it's hard not to be taken aback, but as fans should already be aware, 'My Lighthouse' is a red herring, because {Awayland} refuses to tread familiar ground. It's a leap into the great unknown, and it rips up the singer-songwriter rulebook in favour of something far more ambitious, even when at its most straightforward.

Let me address the elephant in the room before I do anything else, though: yes, O'Brien's guitar still provides the foundations for Villagers' sound. Even though there was a far more electronic tinge to the extremely unconventional lead single, 'The Waves', it didn't lay down the blueprint for the album as a whole, even though those who heard 'Shards' from last year's Smugglers Way Record Store Day release must have wondered where he was headed next. As any album worth its salt should, it all makes sense in context. 'The Waves' rubs shoulders with possibly the most immediate moment on the album, 'Judgement Call', which itself is followed by the piano-driven current single 'Nothing Arrived'; with dazzling dexterity, O'Brien flits from one mood to the next with an almost childlike curiosity and enthusiasm.

He's at war again, but not with himself. That childlike curiosity and enthusiasm is being fought for this time around, and it's clearly something that's worth striving for. "Look at the birds, look at the bees / Madame, it's all the same to me" he sighs wearily, and this is after, on 'Earthly Pleasures', he recounts the story of a man whose life is unravelling, afraid that "he'd go back to the grind and that he wouldn't last a week." It's hard to tell whether that's autobiographical or not, but the lyrics here aren't as explicitly personal as they were on Becoming a Jackal. They are more open and universal - the penultimate track 'In A New Found Land You Are Free' speaks to the innocent 'new-born child' in all of us, tying in directly with the album's wistful cover art.

O'Brien sneers, "We gotta keep the wheels in motion, and we gotta get the kids before they grow; God forbid they retain their sense of wonder" on 'Judgement Call', but he's speaking ironically, because at its heart, this is what {Awayland} is all about; the hapless protagonist of 'Earthly Pleasure', O'Brien himself on album centrepiece 'The Bell' ("There is a sleeping dog beneath this dialogue") and the infectious 'Passing A Message' ("I was carving my name out of a giant sequoia tree; I was blind to its beauty, now it's all I can see") - the characters that feature on this album are all trying to retain, and in some cases regain, their sense of wonder.

Sometimes there's "an overwhelming sense of doubt", and sometimes there's a feeling that maybe this childlike view of the world has been lost forever ("I waited for Something, and Something died / So I waited for Nothing, and Nothing arrived"), but despite the constant push-and-shove of the narrative of this thematically (if not conceptually) linked album, its creator may have just found peace after all: "I am grateful for your company, I am grateful to belong / And I am thankful for the misery from which I stole this grateful song." Even if, as closer 'Rhythm Composer' puts it, O'Brien "doesn't know whether he's coming or going" in his pursuit of innocence, he's come to the conclusion that "the old black dog that's on his back" doesn't bother him anymore. "If you tame it, you can get it to sit" - he's no longer in pieces, and his new outlook has enabled him to create an album that should be heralded as something spectacular on a number of levels.