Music and weirdness always embrace each other someway. If I tell you the name of Frank Zappa, your brain would immediately link it to a weird musician, weird soundscapes, jazz and prog chasing the popular culture to transform it into a complete mess. A beautiful mess. Today there’s another name that makes the same effect on people: Ben Levin! The creative mind behind Bent Knee and Ben Levin Group recorded another album with the latter titled Jelly Mound and took a peculiar direction regards the previous works.
Useless to say, Music Pills already dealt with the good Ben reviewing the video album REM RAM and if my first readers remember well, it’s a total trip, both in music and animation: because BL is also known for the unique animation that he crafts for the video clips, both for his projects and other artists (among them we find Sungazer, Aaron David Gleason, Car Bomb, Evan Marien, Josh Friedman). The singles taken from Jelly Mound make no exception: colorful with a lot of flashing lights and distorted, freaky geometric forms and Ben and the bassist Jessica Kyon themselves as actors when needed. No further distraction, it’s time to explore the record.
- I Love You
- What a Special Day
- Thank Death
- I Want to Party
- Costa Rica
- Hot for Sick
- Space with You
The album begins with the simplest declaration of love: I Love You. The refrain is a simple la la la (or love?) sung with a so Beatles-ish emphasis. The verses are divided into many parts leading again to a new refrain. Clean guitars, basic chord tones bass lines, there’s everything for a pop song except for the lyrics, freaky as the animation. The topic focuses on the word nothing: what do you want, you want nothing from me now, I am nothing!….my body’s nothing. Stating the essence of love through the acceptation of the partner for whatever he/she is because it’s not important what do you got, the beloved one is everything for the lover.
What about What a Special Day? It’s the classic verse-chorus song but it has a lot of interesting layers and beautiful moody (and modal) changes. The yeah part contains a beautiful example of chord cloud production, in which the notes stay the same harmonically but the pitch and the length of every single note is randomized. Furthermore, the guitar solo is stunning, with all that noise and the “wrong notes” to spice it up. It’s a song about becoming adult: you realize that the time of taking responsibility has come and there’s no escape, nobody wants to be so afraid of this but it’s a part of life and must be confronted. Useless to say that the video clip is even sicker than the one for I Love You, it contains a lot of little details about the subject and above all the moves of Ben. He absolutely got the moves, let me tell you.
With maturity comes the realization of all the bad things around you. The carelessness of the world is pushed by heavy guitar and bass that for sure know something about Mr. Bungle’s crazy world. The frustration of modern life and all the stress that runs the human routine penetrates with ferocious crashes on the drums like the noise of the 1 pm traffic: these things together with the hidden dissonant notes drive you crazy till you don’t give a fuck anymore and the only thing to do is to Thank Death to escape the worthlessness feelings.
The sense of alienation grows even more in I Want to Party. Feeling our brain involved in automation makes you cry desperately the will to do what you want. A fuzzy guitar widely uses an ostinato seventh major interval to highlight this uncomfortable sensation. This fast groove leads to the outro where Ben lists every silly thing he instinctually wants to do but he can’t make sense of it.
If you realize that this life is not made for you, why not go on vacation? Costa Rica is the place for you…at least in your dreams. The chains built by the routine won’t let you go away from your building. Better to park yourself in front of the television and watch a film. The song is mainly made out of film titles, coming after the auto-tune voice intro and sung over a straight snap beat.
The sixth track is Hot For Sick and it’s another beautiful weird declaration of love. It came out as a single in May and has a strange video clip as usual. It’s just Ben telling his love that he will always be there, in good and evil, health and sickness. Naming every kind of sickness, he states his will to stay forever with the lover despite everything that could happen. Slow tempo, clean guitar, and melodies that come directly from the first rock bands of the sixties, it’s like a timeless song that finds its tone in that age and the lyrics in the frenzy of today.
I don’t know who Sharon is, but for sure she’s a person deeply respected by the Ben Levin Group: they describe her as a person with a heart big enough to take some wounded ones on. There’s no other song so close to Imagine by John Lennon but at the same time so personal and unique. Maybe the flawless simplicity of the melody or the well-known chord progression, but this piece of music sounds pretty close to the listener. The delicate organ at the end brings us into Space with You.
The last song is the cheesiest one, and I think it is what it is on purpose. No sick tones, odd tempo, nervous alienation or spacey chords, the most childish melody cradles the listener almost like a lullaby or a song for kids meaning the most important topic of the record: love. Despite the harshness of life, I love you more than anything.
Ben and his mates made a new pearl of unique music that blends the popular and the weird. The results of this fusion? A colorful Jelly Mound. Have I used the word weird too much? It’s so. And so are these songs.
Written for you by Music Pills
Previous review about Ben Levin: the trippy video album REM RAM
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