Benjamin Bear- Lungs
March 6, 2009 by Jordan Blum
Category: Albums (and EPs)
read review here
Benjamin Bear - Lungs
Lungs, the debut disc by Benjamin Bear, carries the same charm and modesty as the crayon drawings of children. There is a certain warmth in its amateurish nature. What the duo lack in strong melodies, vocals or diversity is compensated with a brotherly partnership for emotional soul bearing. In essence, Lungs is not the most engaging or fresh piano rock, but you can hear desire of two friends to craft their own slice of art, and that is appealing.
Formed in 2007 in Seattle by Mychal Cohen (piano, vocals) and David Stern (percussion), they already have a decent fan base. They cite their influences as Radiohead, NIN and The Mars Volta, and …”seamlessly blend psychedelic, prog rock and ambient genres with a folk pop melody.” In truth, (at least on Lungs) they aren’t as complex or multifaceted as that, but their simple formula works for the most part. It boils down to affective chord changes, some hectic syncopation and a voice that is both untrained and very honest. However, more often than not, the music is far more interesting than the vocals, which sound dull and unfitting. Sometimes, they work though.
It’s impossible to deny that the piano of “Station Rest Release” grabs you. Its basic but effective, and brings about a feeling of loss that will remain with you. Vocally, Cohen reminds one of David Grey. Instead of a wide range or especially pleasant sound, he represents any heartbroken male in early adulthood. As for stern, the bridge serves as a showcase for him to change the tempo and freak out a bit on drums. It’s a fine opener.
“Posterboy” has nice dynamics, intriguing piano playing an a more disjointed (intentionally) sound. There is a lot of dissonance in it, which contrasts the consonant simplicity “This Rusty Truck.” Honestly, its tale of striving doesn’t capture the ears as much as it should because of the stagnant melody and lack of musical drama. “Russ” continues the quirky piano playing as Cohen speaks more than sings. This track is perhaps the best example of how the interplay between piano and drums is sometimes far more engaging than the vocals on Lungs. The music deserves a better melody and singer to do it justice.
“Frictionless” opens with an electric organ, which gives needed freshness to the album, and the marching beat keeps the song moving. The piano cascades as the organ plays over it and even reaches the exciting power of Ben Folds. “Napalm Runner” uses a tambourine during the softer parts, and again the piano has intensity as Cohen bashes on it. The third person perspective of “Walls” helps make the vocals complement the music more than they have for the last few tracks. It’s a fairly heavy song. “Riverbed” is the first song to prominently use acoustic guitar, and to their credit, the sorrowful nostalgia does compare to sadder Radiohead (though not nearly as good, but they are on their way).
“God Damn Thing” is the first track to not have anything really interesting about it. It just sort of drags on. Luckily, “I Just Wish This Could All Be Different” immediately begins with the tension of Tori Amos, and Sterns use of cymbals is a nice touch. Also, the barely audible background vocals add a slight but sufficient level to it. The middle piano jam is great. Near the end, the sparse electronic notes that barely accompany Cohen’s voice show some inventiveness. “Wilson Ave.” has Cohen whispering over what sound like Bongo drums and airy chords. It’s the most intimate track on Lungs. Finally, “Now That You Are Gone” is another sad song. Again, Cohen’s voice doesn’t successfully capture the emotion and personality the music deserves, and even sounds off key a bit.
Benjamin Bear have undeniable talent for crafting heartfelt, intense music out of relatively simple skill. That is to say they aren’t the best musicians, but they definitely make the most out of what they can do. Cohen’s piano and Stern’s percussion work together perfectly to convey earnest loss and confusion. Unfortunately, Cohen’s vocals undermine the seriousness most of the time. Again, his voice does have a quirky charm to it, and for certain moments it fits fine. But the majority of Lungs requires a better vocalist and stronger melodies to do justice to the music. When all three elements work, they work well, but for the most part, the vocals are definitely the chink in the armor.
benjamin bear website here