Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reviews:: The Benzos Branches

The Benzos could be the next big thing ... on your FM-alternative radio station. They have all the elements of a band people will love, and just enough fresh ideas to make them "the hot band" for people that like to find cool new bands on the radio. I'm not sure if that is a back-handed compliment or not, but that's where I see them ending up.

Their sophomore record - Branches - combines swirling atmospheric guitars, soaring vocals, instrumental bridges, and a trip-hop drum theme; all of which make the songs appealing to a lot of people (but not the over critical fan - read bloggers). It's too hard to put them into one category, so I think this record will go largely unnoticed by the blog world. Another strike against them getting much blog love is that the bands that get thrown into the comparison pot with the Benzos (Aphex Twin, the Doves, Explosion in the Sky) are bands that music nerds love, and those comparisons (while not fair) are going to turn hipsters off.

I have to say, when the Benzos get it right, they sound great. Usually it's on the instrumental bridges that pop up in the songs and let them find a groove, but at other times the record seems a bit too all over the place for me. Shoegaze-y vocals and droning guitars aren't usually going to hit home with a big audience, but the Benzos unique take on the sound make it a bit more accessible. They still have songs that are too long for most listeners - very few songs clock in under 5 minutes - but songs like Phase 2 could be thrown into any afternoon set on your local K-ROX and become the anthem of the summer. The guitars are big and the drums kick, but the song never ventures outside of the comfortable range needed to grab a huge audience.

The songs that have less mainstream appeal are the ones I prefer. I love the minimalist electronics and bouncing bass / drum clap of Teach Me, but I probably like this song because the band settles into a longer instrumental and the vocals are kept to the bare essentials. The breakdown would probably sound cool in a live setting, and the 7-minute song length would be perfect for the end of a set. The spasticated programming of Everybody Hurt quickly finds a groove as well, ready for any lounge you sit in, but the Brit-style vocals beef up the track a bit.

If I had to talk about my dislikes about the release, I'd point you to Hard to Feel and see if you think it is going to be the theme song of Blade X (if Wesley Snipes is still making movies). The drums and vocals set a dark tone, and the chorus explodes into a "made for action sequence sound" and songs like this don't really fit into the potential the band shows. Some of the songs threaten a soaring build, but don't go anywhere (Translucent).

With all the ups and downs of the record, I'd actually like to see the band live because I think if you strip off some of the polish and let them just play, you'd be in for a treat. Their tendency to build towards instrumental grooves is screaming for extended jams at white-bred summer festivals. However, unlike most of those bands, they have the potential to also be a band that the radio loves. Regardless, I'm sure you will be hearing more form these guys soon.
MP3:: Phase 2

web site :: myspace

Posted at 2:41 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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