Steve Benjamins is a Toronto singer/songwriter who combines folk, indie rock and electronica to create a presumably unique hybrid. He released his first EP Disorientation Man last year and it gained a buzz for his inspired lyrics and interesting composition. Benjamins’ second effort, however, falls a bit short of what his fans may have come to expect. It’s possible that he wanted a stripped-down sound with less backing ornamentation, but Benjamins may have stripped down a bit too much, making Sightlines a little monotonic and pedestrian.
With Disorientation Man, Steve Benjamins established a characteristic style similar to Temper Trap or Jeff Buckley but with more electronic backing. Somehow, Someday Everything Becomes Something Else, for example, layered indie folk, rock, blues and pretty ambient music. Sightlines, whether intentionally a little more basic or not, falls flat for a number of reasons. First of all Benjamins’ vocals, one of his signatures, are generally sung in just one key and it makes for a lack of interest. The music generally is not as interesting either, with less syncopation and ornamentation.
The title track of Sightlines which also leads the EP is the best example of this stripped-down approach Steve Benjamins is presumably trying to cultivate. Both vocals and backing track are very monotonic in both key and rhythm. The track never really builds despite the addition of more instruments toward the middle. It stays with the same tempo, rhythm and tone throughout. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it simply makes the track unremarkable and not particularly emotive.
The first single released off of Sightlines is called We Used to Live and it also contains a rather drab verse, but Benjamins punches up his vocals in the chorus, changing register and intensity. The music is also a little more interesting, with a house beat and some vintage-sounding yet slightly out of place synths. This song will probably do well as a summery pop jam. Adding a little more interest as well is a dubstep-flavored bridge toward the end which is probably the most interesting part of the piece but then the song dies unexpectedly, leaving We Used to Live sounding like an unfinished piece.
Steamroller improves a little more as the next track. Steve Benjamins’ vocals more intense than on the first two tracks and the composition is really a highlight. A piano and full compliment of strings create tension and emotion and while the song is very quiet and slow, it has an epic rock ballad feel because of the intensity and emotion behind Benjamins’ vocals.
Exploding Boy, despite going from quiet to loud and being fairly intense musically still fails to be interesting. Again Benjamins’ vocals take on a sort of lackluster quality and the rhythms seem to repeat too much without a break or change in tempo. The chorus is pretty intense but it just kind of builds to nowhere. Devotion is ambient and pretty but literally does not build at all and so just seems flat. The closing song on Sightlines is meant to be a short outro but also seems flat and as if it is unfinished. In many of these songs it is as if Benjamins wanted to say one last thing that would tie the whole track or even the whole album together but the tape cut off before he could say it
It is unclear what Steve Benjamins’ motives were with Sightlines, but if he was looking for a more basic folk sound and less bells and whistles, he only partially achieved it. There generally seems to be a lack of passion on this album versus Disorientation Man, and it is a little confusing because audiences know he is capable of really interesting and passionate work. That said, Sightlines is a well-produced pop album for Steve Benjamins, and if that was his goal, he certainly achieved it. Sightlines is available to stream on Steve Benjamins’ Soundcloud page and he is also offering a free download of the EP on his website for fans who subscribe to his email list. Both websites are listed below in “Sources.”
Review by Layla Klamt
Soundcloud.com: Steve Benjamins
Images courtesy of Steve Benjamins’ press package