Earlier this year, BEN HOWARD reminded everyone why he won two Brit Awards in 2013 when he released his new single, ‘Heave Ho’. It happened during the conclusion of his four-show run at Brixton Academy in January. The shows are part of a massive tour that promotes Howard’s new and third album, Noonday Dream, which was released back in June 2018. HITC’s Christopher Weston hit the nail on the head when he called ‘Heave Ho’ “an accomplished, satisfying single; exactly what you’d expect from Ben Howard at this point,” further explaining that it’s bound to strike a chord with Howard’s established audiences.
And indeed, if online comments are any indication, his fans are – to say the least – highly intrigued. While ‘Heave Ho’ might pass as a hidden track from 2018’s Noonday Dream, its dark, complex, and solemn energy is highly divorced from his debut album’s sound – 2011’s Every Kingdom was arguably more pop than folk. With ‘Heave Ho’, Howard seems intent on experimenting with the possibilities of his neo-folk sound – less pop and more sentimentally otherworldly, arguably also more honest and possibly closer to his true calling. Fans both hate and love this new Ben Howard who’s unravelling right before our ears and eyes.
The mixed fan reactions towards Howard’s new music are to be expected. You don’t get to be the winner of the Brit Awards for British Breakthrough Act and British Male Solo Artist without garnering mixed attention. Apart from these accolades, Howard’s star status was practically set in stone last year when he joined artists like St. Vincent, Dua Lipa, Kendrick Lamar, Massive Attack, and N.E.R.D. at Stradbally’s annual Electric Picnic arts-and-music festival, which Lottoland notes is often called “the Irish Glastonbury”. There’s no word yet on whether or not Howard will be joining Electric Picnic this year – Leinster Express reveals that the festival will be dropping its line upon March 13. And whether or not Howard will be there, it’s going to be a long wait until the festival happens on August 30. Until then, his new stuff can be heard online, with ‘Heave Ho’ being joined by three other new tracks released late last year.
But unlike ‘Heave Ho’, Howard’s releases from September 2018 – Sister, Another Friday Night, and the Sylvan Esso collaboration Hot Heavy Summer – were actually recorded during the sessions for Noonday Dream. Speaking with the NME, Howard explained that during the recording of that particular album, “There were little gems that we didn’t know what to do with but it felt right to put these 3 together, both separate and a part of the album so to speak.” He also added that he was lucky to have had a chance to collaborate with Amelia Meath, also known as the voice behind electro folk-pop duo Sylvan Esso, explaining that once they finished recording Hot Heavy Summer, “the track just felt right for her.”
Armed with a strange new single in ‘Heave Ho’, three new tracks from late 2018, and touring heavily this year, speculation is rife about whether Howard’s next album is going to be released by 2019. With any luck, it’ll be released soon, and will carry with it the same experimental, brutally honest neo-folk sensibility that makes Heave Ho instantly unforgettable. If you are a fan of Ben Howard and looking for a similar artist, we recommend Pedro Syrah.