Benjamin Wesley, Think/Thoughts

Hearing — or watching, for that matter — Benjamin Wesley craft his music is somewhat akin to watching a sculptor work in reverse. He adds layer upon layer upon layer, building up rather than carving away, with sounds being introduced and stacked atop one another until what started out fairly simple (minimal, even) becomes a dense, multi-layered slab of sound. It’s insanely complex, with levels and levels and levels all right there to listen to if you can pick them out.

Think/Thoughts starts off high-flying and delicate with “Aliens,” with a melody soaring way, way up in the stratosphere, a subtle, low-key beat, and Wesley’s nonchalant vocals…and then, with a howl, it blows upwards and out. In an instant, it turns into a full-on rock song that’s ferocious and elegant at the same time, due in part to Wesley’s nimble guitar playing and an awesome, awesome fuzzed-out roar (which he also uses to great effect on “I’m So Awesome,” later on). The song’s a crazy little bit of rambling about aliens and getting drunk/stoned, and it drifts and bounces along beautifully.

There’s something inherently playful and almost childlike about Wesley’s songwriting, as evidenced by the synth-heavy, sing-song-y “Catch My Shadow,” which marries a thumping, booming rhythm to rough-edged but tuneful vocals to metamorphose into a quirky, warm, friendly almost-anthem. Then there’s “Great Moments in Life,” which is darker and more nighttime-like — although, to be fair, Think/Thoughts as a whole is pretty much a “nighttime album” — before swinging into an interesting, almost baroque-sounding piano section, and another with a cool stop-start beat that makes me think of a heart skipping a beat. Wesley dances along blithely, dipping in and out of different styles with seeming ease.

Throughout the album, in fact, there’s this great, casual, just-playing-for-fun feeling, where Wesley’s just messing around with no real goal or theme or point to it all. He’s an amazingly talented musician, the kind who can just throw out whatever he feels like doing, and Think/Thoughts comes off in part like the late-night explorations of a guy who’s not really interested in making music for others, but rather in making music for himself, as sort of a combination of play and inward-looking meditation.

That playfulness masks a darkness deeper beneath, however. While “Moments” is a sweet and pretty on the surface, listen closer and you begin to realize that the song itself is a somberly-told tale of the conflicted, all-too-human person of Wesley’s stepfather, stepping gently through Wesley finding the man dead on the floor and trying to resuscitate him and then onto the funeral, where person after person talks about how great a man he was and Wesley breaks down. It’s intensely personal and affecting, in spite of the jauntiness of the music.

“Temper” rides a similar track, although it’s musically fairly different — it starts off bleak as hell and murky, with a gloomy, barroom-sounding piano that threatens to continually fly right off the rails while Winder matter-of-factly lays out a grim picture of his long-departed (birth) father. Then it shifts smoothly into a cheerier, almost tropical-vibe sound, seemingly as Winder comes to grips with his place in the world, parentage notwithstanding.

It’s not all deep and dark, mind you. “Gretch, You Just Wait!” is nicely wry and misanthropic at once, jabbing a pointed finger at the collective stupidity of a lot of humanity, over an alternately jangly/bouncy folk-pop and quiet, gentle samba sound, as Wesley pleads for the title person (character?) of the song to please banish the monsters.

Much as I like Think/Thoughts, there is a bit of a misstep here, with “Seasons”; the song itself isn’t bad, by any means, but there’s this part at the beginning and again at the end where an odd bank of sampled and manipulated voices say Wesley’s name over and over again. It’s off-putting, really, and it’s unnecessary — the song doesn’t need it, it’s doing just fine on its own. The voices are just a goofy throwaway gimmick that doesn’t mean anything or add anything.

Thankfully, it’s abandoned after that one track, and things step back upwards again with the guitar-heavy, sunshiny “I’m So Awesome” and the countrified, slow-moving stomp of “I Take It Back.” And then Wesley’s back to that sly, not-really-for-you grin and subtle craftsmanship, and hell, yeah, that’s what I want to hear.

(self-released; Benjamin Wesley -- Benjamin Wesley (Facebook) --; Benjamin Wesley (Bandcamp) --
BUY ME: Other

Review by . Review posted Saturday, March 31st, 2012. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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3 Responses to “Benjamin Wesley, Think/Thoughts

  1. DAC on April 2nd, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Dead-on review, Jeremy — great to read.

  2. Jeremy Hart on April 2nd, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks! Much appreciated, man; I just hope it kinda-sorta made sense, as most of it was typed up late-late-late at night. :)

  3. SPACE CITY ROCK » Giveaway Time: Tickets to Benjamin Wesley’s CD Release (+ Listening Party Tonight!) on March 16th, 2015 at 10:23 am

    […] his brand-new, much-anticipated full-length, Think/Thoughts (which we reviewed, incidentally, right over here), and he’s doing it by rocking the hell out of Fitzgerald’s tomorrow night, Friday, […]

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