The exquisite new album unfurls O’Brien’s trademark melodic flair, his gift for simultaneously vivid and subtle arrangements and lyrics that couch his hopes, fears and dreams in richly absorbing poetry. That Golden Time takes its name from the fifth track, which doubles as the album’s lead single.
“I wanted the warmth of the record reflected in its title,” O’Brien explains. “The song also touches on a theme that keeps cropping up, of romanticism versus realism. How can you have aspirational ideas about yourself and the world around you, whilst being confronted with a harsh, cold reality? The friction interested me.”
After the band-centred sessions of its predecessor, That Golden Time’s solo-centric core was not forced on O’Brien by lockdown. “For me, That Golden Time has an internalised voice, so much so that I almost found it impossible to let anyone else in,” he says. “It’s probably the most vulnerable album I’ve made. I played and recorded everything in my apartment, and finally, towards the end, invited people in.” Invites went out to, among others, Irish legend Dónal Lunny [Planxty, The Bothy Band] on bouzouki, American songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick on violin, and a group of players that O’Brien had first seen performing in a tribute to one of his great loves, Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who added soprano vocal, viola and cello.
The understated poetry within That Golden Time is effortlessly carried by gorgeous melodies and sublime instrumentation. In “No Drama”, as the narrator pleads for respite from the vicissitudes of life, O’Brien equates an orchestral swell with an appeal for quiet beauty and peace. “Behind That Curtain” is a rare moment of musical discombobulation as a solemn, soulful ballad hands over to a jazzy coda, “It’s the sound of deafening alarm bells inside your head,” remarks O’Brien. Exploring these themes further, there is also a secondary image of a coin on the artwork (an Irish twenty pence piece) to which O’Brien explains: “The types of physical currency change throughout time, but the essential power relationships and bartering principles persevere throughout the cosmetic changes.”
As the album comes to its conclusion with “Money On The Mind”, we find a moment of serenity with a ray of hope. The very last line, softly crooned, is “My money’s on the mind, truth be told,” a shout-out to the resilience of the human spirit. The moth might be disorientated, but it swerves the flame to live another day.
Upcoming BNL live dates:
Monday 27th May - Ancienne Belgique, Belgium
Tuesday 28th May – Paradiso, Amsterdam
Wednesday 29th May - LantarenVenster, Rotterdam