Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BENJAMIN BEAR review in Metro Spirit

Benjamin Bear
Available Now

AUGUSTA, GA - Though it may seem so at first listen, Benjamin Bear’s “Lungs” is not an easy record to penetrate, either categorically or critically. The simple-as-you-want-it setup of Mychal Cohen (piano/vocals) and David Stern (percussion) belies a lurking complexity, both musically and lyrically, whose idiosyncrasies can only be persuaded to reveal themselves over the course of multiple, very attentive sessions, preferably while you crouch in the corner of your living room, a neglected beer slowly warming at your hip.

Trust me, it makes sense. The overarching tone of the album espouses an anguished attempt to crawl out from the forgotten shadows; whether these songs are strictly autobiographical is anyone’s guess, but Cohen does a superb job in any case of making you believe that he’s been wronged by a lover, a friend, or the whole damn world. In that regard, “Lungs’” quiet highlight “God Damn Thing” is notably affecting, simmering and seething while Cohen croons, imagining driving “to the edges of the earth/where reason and knowledge/mean a goddamn thing.” The rising musical crescendo and near-tortured wail that caps off the track then turns its fragile solemnity into a 45 seconds so harrowing that it’s almost too uncomfortable for a third party to bear.

To reiterate, this is far from your standard singer/songwriter duo. Stern’s drum work switches from understated to cacophonous at the drop of a hat, and Cohen’s piano takes on an almost gypsy-like cadence during the verses of “Frictionless.” Also exhibited is a surprisingly nuanced attention to wordplay; in opener “Station Rest Release,” Cohen howls the seemingly simple statement “All I wanted was love from you.” It’s an indication that this is the only thing he wants in the world, period, and, were it phrased “All I wanted from you was love,” the sentiment would be a very different one indeed. As it is, the line is worth lengthy philosophical discussion, as it brings even more to light the narrator’s completely isolated emotional state.

“Lungs” doesn’t initially grab you by the jugular, but it neither needs nor intends to, content instead to administer the weight of its shattered romanticism gradually, evenly, and poetically. Vitriolic and truly heartbreaking.

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