Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Music by Benny Sings.
The title track of Benny Sings’ latest album, Music, distills the core of the whole record in two lines: “Music, help me through this / I can’t do this on my own.” The album’s closer, “Music” sums up what Benny’s been telling us all along: whatever darkness you’re going through, some funky piano will get you through it.
Although Benny might not be a household name yet, his collaboration with Rex Orange County, “Loving Is Easy,” is that inescapable song that’s probably been stuck in your head many times between its 2017 release and now. He’s worked with an impressive roster of artists, from Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals to Mndsgn and Mac DeMarco (featured on the single “Rolled Up” on Music), among others. Like .Paak, Benny has an old-school cool and charisma. Whether just listening to his music or watching him perform, you can tell that he’s an experienced musician first. He has the discography to prove it: This is his seventh album, and his second release from Stones Throw Records.
Benny joked in the NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert he shot in July 2020 that not much had changed for him during the pandemic, because he was still just alone writing songs in his studio. Despite the assertion that things aren’t all that different, this album feels distinct from his previous work. There are shared elements — the R&B-jazz-soul-pop bounce and Benny’s singular voice — but Music has a feel-good energy, with nostalgic keys and funky, pop-leaning production that goes beyond the happiest moments of City Pop.
This is clear from the first track on Music, “Nobody’s Fault.” For such a sonically cheerful bop, this song is lyrically dark and sparse, with many repeated phrases, including: “This life’s not what you wanted” and “Hey, it’s nobody’s fault / We’re getting old / And time keeps pushing on.” The music video also reinforces this dichotomy, with Benny primarily alone and in dreary surroundings, tapping along to the beat as more of a nervous tic than keeping time.
“Nobody’s Fault,” and most of the album, is the musical embodiment of responding to “How are you?” with “I’m fine,” even though you are most definitely not fine. It looks cheerful and light on the surface, but there’s so much more going on underneath, and no one really believes the facade, anyway.
“Here It Comes” leans into the nostalgia of a young relationship, and “Sunny Afternoon” seems to be Benny’s answer to Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” — a rewrite in which the day is lovely, but the object of your affection isn’t there to reassure you.
Mac DeMarco-featuring “Rolled Up,” has Benny and DeMarco passing the vocals back and forth, both alternating between despair and hope. The music video also cuts between them, and has a trippy, goofy quality — including DeMarco jumping fully clothed into a pool — that makes me wonder how much the song title has to do with rolling joints (cue the jokes about Benny being from Amsterdam) or rolling on ecstasy.
Other standout tracks include “Run Right Back” (with a fantastic saxophone solo from Cautious Clay) and “Kids,” featuring KYLE, which is the most purely hip-hop track on the album.
And at the close, we reach, simply, “Music.” Benny Sings has made a pandemic album that hits a particular, complex mood: This is music to laugh to, cry to, and then start laughing to again, all while you dance around in the sunshine. And it might just get us through this.
Theda Berry is a Brooklyn-based writer and the former Editor of VMP. If she had to be a different kind of berry, she’d pick strawberry.