Ben Howard: ‘Nica Libres at Dusk’ review

What I Know:
Ben Howard will be a name familiar to many, if only for his phenomenally successful 2011 album Every Kingdom, which spawned the mega-singles Only Love, Old Pine and Keep Your Head Up, accumulating awards aplenty along the way.

His triumph, however, was – in my humble opinion – 2014’s full length I Forget Where We Were – an album that shook off the poppier sheen in favour of a darker, more moody, more gnarled sound.

This week he returned with the album Noonday Dream, on which Nica Libres at Dusk is the opening track.

What I Like:
Rare, indeed, is it to come across lyrics so poetic and rich in symbolism as are on Nica Libres at Dusk. Such words demand contemplation. They demand one’s imposition of meaning upon them, after all if the lyricist, himself, has spent so much time on them, I often feel it’s simply good manners to at least try to apply them to one’s own experiences and give them life through emotional connection. 

However, it should be said that a few weeks ago, I posited my own theory on the meaning of the lyrics to a song and was quickly ‘corrected’ by a fan group of the band on Twitter. They had found an interview with the band in question wherein in the singer made it quite clear that his interpretation was not the same as my own.

So, at the risk of angering the good people at @BenHowardSuperFans (or whatever), I’m going to give this one a go too but readers should be aware of my disclaimer from the off… I might be speaking a load of old cobblers. Feel free to make up your own mind.

For me, Nica Libres at Dusk is written from the point of view of someone who is nearing the end of their life (“my health receding”), hearing the “evacuation procedure” being read “out loud” outside the door.

But, they’re not afraid; on the contrary, they’re looking back over their achievements (“count[ing] my dollars”) and looking forward to “forever, forever such a beautiful thing.”

As the final chorus fades into the outro, Howard can be heard describing how his character would like to spend his last few hours; “today I will stare at the sea, til my eyes have had enough”, quite literally going out with a Nica Libre cigar as the sun sets on his time on earth.

And when combined with the sort of stunning soundscape that has become a staple of the Ben Howard sound, I’m almost tempted to join him.

For what Howard has created in Nica Libres at Dusk is a song that is dense in all the most satisfying of ways; heavily laden not only with meaning but also with beautiful instrumentation and atmosphere. If it were a food stuff, it would be a proper English roast with all the trimmings… warm, filling and hearty.

Other opinions are available though!


Ben Howard: Small Things
Theodore: Are We There Yet? (read my review)
Balmorhea: Slow Stone


The Overview
Recommended Music | 8th June 2018

The ‘Charm Offensive’
Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson: Iguana Bird

The ‘Military Coup’
Halestorm: Uncomfortable

The ‘Peaceful Protest’
Umi Copper: Requiem

‘Guerilla Warfare’
Oneohtrix Point Never: Warning