Firstly: the album is available in FLAC or MP3, for a donation – or for free – on Ben’s Bandcamp. So, if you want to listen to this beautifully sombre piece of modern folk music you can.
Starting with the vocals, there’s something Dylan-esque about In Use Day and Night – which is unsurprising after listening to Ben Holland’s first album Bits and Bobs, that’s half recordings of his own unfinished compositions and half Bob Dylan covers. The effortlessness that’s occasionally pierced by a foray into a key or note you didn’t think was possible, is reminiscent of Another Side of Bob Dylan – but somewhat less violent.
Musically, the album doesn’t push any boundaries. Nevertheless, its down to earth acoustic guitar and lengthy lyrical passages perfectly capture the feeling of a generation nostalgic of an era we’ve never known. The album probably being recorded with equipment as old as Ben – for, as every aspiring recording artist knows, old equipment is the only affordable way to start recording – adds to this feeling of a nostalgia gently nudging you into a new era, for your own sake.
The lyrical structure of each song is similar to that of a traditional folk ballad. The choruses and verses take a similar form, which creates a feeling of unexpected repetition – you don’t notice half the choruses until you’re on the last line, and Ben’s telling you ‘that’s for certain’.
In Death of a Heart, each stanza has an ABBCCB rhyming scheme, with the first line of each verse being comprised of only one or two words: outside, inside, I’m weary, shame, love, still. Each of these lines creating a premise, that’s followed up with five lines of varying lengths that counter that premise – for example, ‘Love’ is concluded with ‘Tenderness is no match // For deaths persistence’; Ben begins a stanza with a hypothesis and follows it with a counter argument, forcing the listener to engage with the lyrics.
The placement of the tracks within the body of the album is simply wonderful. Two choices had me thoroughly relieved and warmed as I listen to them. Firstly: after the cold and lonely Song of a Prisoner comes Diamond of the Elephant Gang, shifting the mood from harrowing pessimism to well-placed nihilism. In Song of a Prisoner Ben tells the story of a refugee ‘born into bad luck’, who repeatedly sings ‘all I know is cruelty’, and eventually finds out he has a son at home in Iraq and can only say: ‘All I feel is pity // As here comes another one’. Then Ben offers us the story of Diamond – an upbeat railroad tune – as she does all she can to make it; Annie, who later becomes Diamond, goes from ‘rags to riches’, through nothing but her own will. Secondly: the album is concluded with the slow paced track Winter in Spring, and finally closed on the line ‘With nothing left but time.’ Without reading too much into it, anyone can tell Ben is closing on unending time – leaving the album as a beginning (of something) rather than an end.
In conclusion: I enjoyed Ben’s first complete album, it’s honest and – though it’s nostalgic, and the lyrics tell stories from another time – it captures current times perfectly.