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In March 2022, Ben Howard was sat in his garden when he found himself unable to think clearly, form sentences or speak for almost an hour. A month later, aer the same thing happened again, the Ivor Novello Award-winning singer-songwriter learned he’d suffered two TIAs (transient ischemic aacks - known as mini-strokes). “It was out of the blue,” says the 35 year-old. “It was a confusing me.”

That June, aer a month of inconclusive hospital tests Howard and his band returned to Le Manoir de Léon recording studio in south-west France, where they’d previously worked on his acclaimed third album ‘Noonday Dream’.

“We went in and put down ten songs in ten days, then spent the rest of the year nkering with them”. The record was produced by Bullion, known for his work on Westerman’s ‘Your Hero Is Not Dead’ and Orlando Weeks ‘Hop Up’. Howard says, “We worked through the heatwave, the air condioning broke, aer what had happened I was so red in the aernoons that I slept a lot. We just played solidly and slept, they was no me for retrospecon”.

The result is ‘Is It’, a lush, sonically splintered album which captures Howard working through those moments of seismic shi. “I found it impossible not to dwell on the absurdity of it, that with one ny clot, one can lose all facules. It really ate into the wring of the record”.

The songs range from the peaceful quodian Days of Lantana, to cut up samples and driven beats of Walking Backwards, the formers’ pitched and warped Linda Thompson chorus reminiscent of Malcolm Mclaren ́s ‘Madame Buerfly’.

Moonraker, a song about climbing in the Guadarrama mountains touches on the meditaonal, while in the cyclical Richmond Avenue Howard talks of shared childhood moments with his father.

There are colourful, le-field producon choices throughout- a staple of Bullion - but with a twist

“We really bonded over records in the studio” he says. “Nathan has an incredible ear and catalogue of sampled beats and rhythms which quickly became the bedrock...There were contribung factors also. Our mainstay drummer Kyle lives in Seale and as we made the record on the fly we just leaned into drum-machine world, and really le almost all of that side of things up to Nathan.”

“We also did a session at Real World Studios and put most of the record through an echoplex”.

That session featured addional instrumentaon from Raven Bush (violin, viola) and Mick Mcgoldrick (flute, Eileen pipes) as well as Howards mainstay band of Mickey Smith (Bass, guitars, percussion) R.D. Thomas (synths, keys, harmonium) and Nat Wason (guitars).

“It’s actually mostly a guitar record, but there are some nice addions. We bought an old harmonium at the beginning of the trip which made its way onto most tracks. I was very much stuck in stuered delay and synth led guitar paerns. Mick McGoldrick came in to play on Richmond Ave and straight away played Liam O ́Flynn lines from the Mark Knopfler record ‘Cal’ which is a long favourite of mine and a big connecon to my Dad who had it on tape. That was a beauful moment, perhaps one of my favourites moments in the studio ever.”

“It was a refreshing way to record, unweighted by the past”

The change is evident on ‘Is It’ - an album which represents a further creave evoluon from an arst known for never repeang himself throughout his already-storied career.

̈I was so aware of the overwhelming informaon coming from everything, almost like my brain couldn’t filter what was happening and had to start again. So we just pushed forward, lyrically it seems obvious to me in parts, It’s about sing there wondering what the hell is going on.”

Yet with each listen it feels like more than that. A characteriscally onion-layered record which rankles like a series of quesons, or a series of vignees throughout Howard ́s life, perhaps best dislled in the whirling chorus on ́Spirit ́.

‘What’s mine anyway?

My feelings seem to be arranged. What’s mine anyway?

Spirit? Is it? ́

‘Is It’ stands quite starkly on it’s own, buoyed by the circumstances of its creaon. “Just to be playing music in the studio felt like a real privilege and a luxury,” says Howard. “It was probably the best studio session we’ve ever had.”