Google Play Free Song of the Day 1/26/2016

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Benji Hughes

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Freaky Feedback Blues


Benji Hughes

About the artist

Charlotte, North Carolina’s Benji Hughes fronted a rock band in the nineties. He’s written commercial jingles (“Got a Little Captain in You?” for Captain Morgan rum). He’s made music for film and television (Walk Hard, Eastbound & Down). He released 2008’s A Love Extreme, his excellent double-LP debut record. But these ventures aren’t different hats Hughes wears. They’re not different paths traveled. This is Hughes playing in different keys.Now, for his first record on Merge, Benji Hughes is playing Songs in the Key of Animals. Recorded over two years mostly at Frisbie studios in New York , the album is 41 minutes of pop-music exploration. Hughes runs the listener through the thumping groove of opener “Peacockin’ Party” into the shimmering, glorious haze of “Girls Love Shoes” (“Chicks like a lot of things, but they really love shoes, you know?”) and through the compact, playful melodies of “Shark Attack!!!!!!!!!!” And that’s just the first three songs.
Hughes was working on three other albums as Songs in the Key of Animals started to take shape. “The songs on this album were being written as they were being recorded—on-the-spot, stream-of-consciousness magic.” The listener can hear that sense of discovery and playfulness all over the record. It gives the album its cohesion even as it bounces from, say, the funky hooks of “Freaky Feedback Blues” to the gauzy and bittersweet “Magic Summertime,” Hughes’ reworking of an Eleni Mandell song. Although Hughes has been described as being meticulous, the spontaneous feel of the record comes out of Hughes’ approach. “You just let the tracks happen to you,” he says. “If you’re in tune with what you’re doing, these things will continue to happen. You’re not overlording magic.”
And there is something magical about Songs in the Key of Animals. Hughes played most of the music on it, but the album is still full of collaboration. You can hear the chemistry between Hughes and the female vocalists he sings with on this record. One of those singers happens to be Meshell Ndegeocello (who also plays bass on many of the tracks). If Hughes is our host, there are still plenty of guests invited to the party. “Waiting for the muse is a boring and lonely approach,” says Hughes. “Collaboration is where it’s at!”
For a while, Hughes hadn’t planned to bring that party to a label. He was going to continue to make music available as a “renegade maverick” until Merge came calling. “I love Merge,” he says. “Who hasn’t vibed out to some of those records? Also, I happen to do a wicked Stephin Merritt impression, so it’s perfect.” And just like that, through Hughes’ love of records like 69 Love Songs, his new album had a home.
Though the record runs well short of its predecessor A Love Extreme’s playing time, the CD version of the album will come on two discs. “It feels like the best way of letting people know how I intended the album to be experienced,” Hughes explains. “Two different vibes, the two discs are meant to represent the two sides of a record that gets flipped. It’s really that simple.”
As much as Hughes talks about spontaneity and of the two-experience format being “really that simple,” Songs in the Key of Animals is deceptive in its depth. It’s a double-sided album in so many ways. It’s got a summertime immediacy but an evergreen resonance (see “Longshot”). It’s clever but too deep for punchlines (check the excellent back and forth of “Picnic”). It is sincere (“Girls Love Shoes”) yet heartbreaking (“Song for Nancy”). It’s eccentric but never forced in its strangeness. It’s the kind of record that reminds us music can be fun without being empty. It’s an album full of peacocks and sharks and zebras and tigers, but ultimately, it’s about us. “People are animals,” Hughes says, “even if some people don’t want to admit it.” Songs in the Key of Animals taps into something beyond just intellect or trend or taste. It’s all about the feel, the connection between the player, the music, and the listener.


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ScreenHunter_1764 Jan. 26 15.49


Total length
October 9, 2015
© 2015 Merge Records
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