Monday 28 July 2014

Ben Watt - Hendra

I never really 'got' Everything But The Girl.  My ears just couldn't get past the pace, the jazzy pretensions and later on the Techno-lite sounds. I don't know whether it was the student connection, the apparent miserable-ness and navel gazing that seemed to prevail through the tracks and the performance, Tracey Thorn's voice.  Or a combination of all these, and perhaps other factors which just left them residing in the "I know they exist, but I'm not really bothered about hearing them" pile.
Alternatively, maybe it was just a result of my own narrow-minded prejudices (surely not?) which after hearing a couple of early tracks, I never went back and gave them a proper listen.

So, for whatever the reason, the idea of me owning an album by Ben Watt would seem somewhat unlikely.
However after hearing "Spring" earlier in the year, and now the latest single "Forget", I took the plunge and purchased the parent album.
The general feeling of idiocy and ignorance is difficult to explain when your internal prejudices are shot down in flames, but it was that feeling that overtook me on hearing the album in full.

The two songs mentioned above are worth the entry fee alone, but add to that tracks like "Hendra", "Nathaniel" and "Golden Ratio" and what there is here is one of the most enjoyable listens I've heard this year.
The music is jazzy, folky, laid-back, thoughtful, encompassing fuzz-guitar indie rock and excursions into electronic sound backing.  For simple "rule of thumb" comparisons think: Brian Eno, 70s West Coast, with echoes of Pink Floyd and New Order (this is a representative 'first thoughts' comparison list, not a definitive statement)
(I realise these words aren't exactly doing a great sales job, but I'm trying my best to avoid the word "eclectic").

There is an air of melancholy throughout, exemplified by lines such as:

"I wish I'd studied harder now,
Made something of myself,
But instead I'm just a shop keeper,
But I mustn't blame myself"
(from "Hendra")

"You can push things to the back of your mind,
but you can never forget"
(from "Forget")

"But every mirror just tells the time,
Can you name a great fighter over 49?
I should douse my flame for the young mans game tonight"
(from "Young Mans Game")

 but none of these are delivered in a down way - there is a noticeable acceptance, which I suppose can be considered as a positive melancholy (if there is such a thing?).
The production is simple, plain and honest - none of this using the mixing desk as an extra instrument, or layering tracks to create an un-performable live track.  The arrangements, instrumentation and playing are straightforward and uncluttered.  In short, an understated and relatively low key release.  But at the same time a triumphant collection that deserves a wider listening base than it may receive.

2014 is gradually becoming a golden year for new releases, and this one is bound to be in the running when the ever-present, always expected "Annual Best Of The Year 2014" gongs are handed out.

In the interests of balance, I have re-visited some Everything But The Girl output, but have found nothing to alter my previous views.  So whether you like EBTG or not, this album is highly recommended.



1 comment:

  1. Very good review; sums up my thoughts about it exactly. (RB at AW.) :)