BOTTOM LINE Forging his own way out of the crowded British singer-songwriter field.
Ben Howard is not Ed Sheeran.
Granted, the British singer-songwriter always had more in common with Damien Rice than Mr. Shape of You. But Howard and Sheeran arrived at nearly the same time in 2011, armed with acoustic guitars and personal songs like “Only Love” that landed them both Brit awards.
While Sheeran turned toward pop, Howard wanders off in the wilderness. And on his third album, “Noonday Dream” (Republic), Howard is reflecting his travels with an eclectic collection of well-crafted inventions.
The first single, “Nica Libres at Dusk,” has Howard singing stream of consciousness images over layers of acoustic guitars, his voice moving in an out of electronic processing. The stunning closer “Murmurations,” which, like several songs here, weighs in at over six minutes, is like Paul Simon mixed with Radiohead, plaintive vocals juxtaposed against orchestral swells and bits of noise and percussion. When it folds into a more conventional rock arrangement in the second half, it picks up strength. Howard doesn’t have to stretch boundaries in order to be effective, but he can do that, too, like in the Pink Floyd-ish “A Boat to An Island on the Wall.”