Experimental Folk Scrapbooking
Self-Released October 21, 2016
It’s been just over four years since Ben Sollee released Half Made Man, his last major full-length album. I got to host Sollee and his reliable musical partner, Jordon Ellis, on WRFL-Live that fall to promote the album, and the two have been performing together on the road ever since. And so it’s fitting that Infowars features them together in a setting that feels every bit as much like a live performance as it does a studio album.
Promotional materials for the album acknowledge this unique feeling, saying “Listening to this record is like looking through a scrapbook or reading a diary. Jordon and I stitched together audio memories from our years on the road to inspire new sounds and ideas.” It really does convey that feeling, too – spanning nineteen tracks, Infowars features nearly as many short instrumentals and bits of field recording as more traditionally sung songs. This mixture of songs and captured sounds accomplishes precisely that ‘diary-of-life-on-the-road’ listening experience.
The highlight of the album is “Long Lavender Line,” which incorporates lots of effects, samples, and electronics, as Ben mourns our modern dependency on technology – even including a verse about a man walking off a cliff because he was too wrapped up in Pokémon GO. “Coming Down” is maybe the most traditionally ‘Ben-Sollee-sounding’ track on the album, and feels very live, capturing the two musicians at their most in-sync with each other. A close second for my favorite track is “Eskimo Annie,” featuring Alabama legend Lonnie Holley – Ben puts a nice drone from the cello beneath the vocals, and Jordon contributes just the right amount of shuffling drums to the mix. Towards the end of the album is “A Small Town Sunday in Spain,” a slow, calm, romantic memory of a relaxing afternoon overseas.
Infowars is well conceived as an album, establishing its atmosphere from the outset, and sprinkling it tastefully throughout. Even with its experimental use of effects and electronics, the album should remain accessible to long-time fans. Because of this evolution as an artist, and along with these captured moments of his life as an artist, Infowars manages to sound like the most personal work that Ben Sollee has issued to date.
Tracks I Liked: Cajun Navy!, Long Lavender Line!!!, Coming Down!, Fanfare for a Crowded Room!, Eskimo Annie!!, A Small Town Sunday in Spain!, Distractions!!, Repaired!
Ben Southworth – October 30, 2016 – UK SA/VS Building
Released March 13th, 2015
Perhaps I just haven’t been paying much attention lately, but when Ben Sollee posted a link to a three-song EP on his Facebook today, I was quite surprised. Though I don’t know too much about the context of this EP, Steeples Part One, is presumably the first of some series of releases coming from Ben. It starts with a short tune, “Forgotten,” which pairs cello and vocals for an intro before slowly adding layers of drums, electric guitars, strings, and additional vocals. Short interludes between verses become increasingly rich, and the sound he arrives at for the coda just feels really good. “Pretend” is my favorite track of the EP – it’s a soul-pop tune that discusses notions of simplicity and love, and the repeated lines, “I’ll be there when things get tough, and I’ll hold your hand,” ought to resonate with people who grapple with the expectations of love. The final track, “Loving Memory,” is quiet, somber, and the most intimate of the bunch, featuring mostly cello, voice, and bass. All in all, the EP is pretty stripped-down from the sounds found on 2012’s Half Made Man – he’s moved a little bit back towards the sound found on his Learning to Bend and Dear Companion. But this simpler sound lends itself well to his music – it feels more natural, and definitely a step back in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll know soon whether there’s more stuff like this on the way.
Tracks I Liked: Forgotten!!, Pretend!!!, Loving Memory!
Ben Southworth – March 13th, 2015 – Mt. Horeb Pike