Amsterdam native Tim van Berkestijn aka Benny Sings returns with his 8th studio album, Music, which also marks his second release on contemporary indie, jazz and electronic label Stones Throw Records. Up to this point if you’ve graced Benny’s music before you have become familiar with his tried and true approach to clean, funky and melodically rich style of piano driven sounds. On this new project he continues once again in this movement, but that doesn’t mean the magic has worn off just yet.
From the moment the opening chords of “Nobody’s Fault” kick in you know that this album is about to take you on a gloriously vibrant journey. With its upbeat groove and silky smooth production it’s simply hard not to get up and dance along to the infatuating melodies and harmonies. But look deeper into the song and you soon realise the juxtaposition of the swinging melody to the defeatist lyrics that seek to give comfort to those that try to hide their pain. And this contrast is one that appears frequently on this album. Going straight into “Here It Comes” the melancholic piano melodies and slugging beat have all the elements of a heartbreak ballad, but lyrically Benny is his most optimistic. Reminiscing in childhood happiness, he looks back at a time when he believed he could be anything. “When we move up the hill, I promise I will, Start to life that we dreamt of, I know it, I feel it” he sings with a subtle allure.
This subtlety is a trait that Benny has been using in his works for a number of years now and it seems like he’s perfected it on this album. On “Sunny Afternoon” Benny’s vocals offer an alluring border almost on spoken word, with minimalist melodic inflections being added in on the chorus as the layers of sound build. Even the chords are sparse over the motioning beat, but this only makes the eventual build of strings at the climax of the track that much sweeter. And on “Run Right Back” there’s so much untapped cool lying within the breezy reggae infused melody that it feels as though you’re floating on a cloud high up in the summers sky, watching the people below. Then as Cautious Clay comes in with a killer sax solo you can just feel the smoothness of this track seeping out at every corner, all whilst staying humbly grounded.
What sets this project apart from other Benny Sings albums is the variety not only in sound mixtures, from the neo-soul ballad of “Miracles” to the trap-funk tinged “Kids” with KYLE, but the collaborations that Benny sows throughout. The highlight of these being “Rolled Up” with Mac DeMarco, which we named as one of last years best songs. There’s so much of Benny and DeMarco’s individual personalities shining through on this track that it makes you wish they’d made a whole album. The woozy piano and stripped back guitar has every part of DeMarco’s latest album Here Comes The Cowboy mixed in over the joyously catchy melody. Then as Benny croons in over the simplistic synth rise you feel instantly elated just at the sound of his laid back voice as he grapples with self doubt. “Is this my life? It’s not too bad, Still I’m rolled up, tossed out” he declares, going back to the juxtapostion of melancholy over uplifting chords.
This is definitely a sparkly clean album that shines with a natural delight in its often tender and funk filled movements. If you’re a longtime Benny Sings fan this album will be everything you want and more. And if you’re a casual listener then prepared to enjoy the chattering piano lines of one of indie jazz’s most prolific artists.