2Z3eCyCHVOrZk5VT68sx84gC1ruFor a number of reasons, I’m really glad I used Amazon Prime and pre-ordered Ben Howard’s latest album, I Forget Where We Were. Reason 1: I basked in Christmas-like joy when I got home Tuesday afternoon to find the album ready and waiting on my doorstep. Reason 2: The so-beautiful lyrics, which would otherwise elude me for all his British slurring, are printed inside the front cover.

If you’re not yet a Ben Howard groupie like myself, it’s possible you’ve heard of him from this rad song featured in Season 4 of The Walking Dead. And if still, somehow, he has evaded you, here’s what you need to know: he’s awesome. Acoustic picking carries most of his music, and haunting, mysterious lyrics keep his songs fresh and relevant; the sound of a clear blue sky, the feeling of a long, deep breath.

I Forget Where We Were feels darker than his first album, Every Kingdom, which relied largely (and effectively) on upbeat lyrics and sweet nostalgia. I Forget Where We Were, however, begins with what Rolling Stone calls discordant notes from the opening song, “Small Things.” At first uncomfortable and seemingly a miss, “Small Things” somehow provides the perfect entryway for the descent into madness which unfolds throughout the remaining tracks. Highlights include “Time Is Dancing” and the title track, “I Forget Where We Were,” which empathizes with the prodigal son, or anyone, really, who has ever returned to a long-lost lover. Howard himself stated that this track, and the album itself, represents a return to the current reality of the world after his lengthy departure into the whirring realm of musical prosperity following Every Kingdom’s unexpected success.

A number of reviews have remarked, however, that the album reaches its climax at the eighth track, “End Of The Affair,” when four minutes of melancholy ambiance splinters into a frenzy of angry, explosive guitar picking. Chills. And with a title like “End Of The Affair,” I can’t help but feel like Howard is deliberately evoking fellow Brit, Graham Greene, who wrote a novel by the same name. In Greene’s story, the narrator, Maurice Bendrix, falls in love with a married woman, Sarah Miles, and, after a burning love affair, Sarah abruptly calls it off, never to see Bendrix again. Bendrix suspects she must have found some other guy, and (spoiler) she has: God, who has convinced Sarah to end the affair. Long story short (it’s not a long story at all, actually, but it is totally beautiful), Bendrix, once a disillusioned atheist, develops a deep belief in God, whom he also hates. Bendrix confesses to God, “Nothing—not even Sarah—is worth our hatred if You exist, except You.” Bendrix, once apathetic towards the general concept of God, develops an impassioned hatred of Him. We must then look closer at hatred. In this case, Bendrix has turned 180 degrees towards God, finding every ounce of himself angry at the One who has taken from him the only thing he wanted, Sarah.

Greene, generally just considered a bad Catholic, has every intention of illustrating an impassioned, highly imperfect and wholly realistic understanding of God. He himself has sanctioned The End of the Affair as a “Catholic” novel. The question remains: How can a religious story end in hate?

Ben Howard, in his lyrical rendition of The Affair, creates a mood to match the novel: Pain and heartbreak are followed immediately by explosive anger and hatred. Looking deeper at the lyrics inside my CD cover, I saw countless parallels between the novel and the song. A Greene-esque line stopped me:

“My hatred, my hate will bring me closer.”

(Strangely this line remains almost impossible to hear on the track; the furious picking, which starts around five minutes, drowns it out. Though barely discernible, Howard includes this line in his official lyrics, proving that sometimes the most important details are also the most incomprehensible.)

Hatred, as I’ve often understood it, causes division and extreme repugnance. Howard, though, argues that, no, “hatred will bring me closer.” Hatred works to unite. The Lumineers, Howard’s hip-kin, sing, “The opposite of love is indifference.” Greene, too, suggests the same conclusion in The End of the Affair. For Greene, and for Catholicism at large (in a reductive sense at least), closeness to God is everything: the manifestation of Christ in the Eucharist, the access of His presence through sacraments. Dwelling with Him, in submission to His power, His will, remains a much greater focus than flickering, flaring emotions regardless of how impassioned or deep-rooted they may be. So whether in love or hate, as Graham Greene says, “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”