Stones Throw Records · February 22, 2019
Wanna see something weird? Look at Benny Sings’ career. The Dutch singer, songwriter and producer has been making retro pop since 2003, managing to smoothly transition from the artsy radio crowd to current young streaming audiences. You might recognize his stage name from his collaboration with Rex Orange County on their breakout 2017 hit, “Loving Is Easy.” But you’re more likely to just recognize Benny’s sound, as his music has been featured on various TV shows and commercials, including HBO’s Girls. Now 42, Benny Sings, whose real name is Tim van Berkestijn, is showing no signs of slowing his career with a brand new full-length release, City Pop.
Overall, it seems like Benny Sings is trying to wear a whole lot of hats and please everyone. This leads to a project that is sometimes wacky and experimental but other times bland and predictable. But even when Benny’s work gets repetitive by his own standards, he’s still miles ahead of his contemporaries. The first two tracks give the listener a great taste of what to expect from the album. “Everything I Know” eases the audience into Benny’s signature soul style with delicate piano and buttery smooth vocal harmonies. The lyrics are cheesy and simplistic, which is par the course for Benny as he typically focuses more on production and instrumentation. However, some clever lyricism shines through on “Familiar,” the third track of the album, as Benny croons “Don’t forget to breathe, we’re individuals / It’s a consequence of love I wasn’t thinking of, but it’s critical.” This cut is also faster and more danceable, while remaining emotional, achieving a tasteful balance.
Then we arrive at the one and only single from the project, “Not Enough.” It’s a standout track, with a weirder vibe than the rest and a crazy music video to accompany its tone. Between the staccato piano loops and soulful sax parts, you’ll feel like you’re listening to a lost Steely Dan song. Next comes “Nakemeguro,” which snuck onto this project from Benny’s 2018 Beat Tape. Beat Tape was a far more abstract collection of snippets, making this cut stand out from the rest on City Pop.
Unfortunately, this is where the album takes a turn as it goes into some of its blandest moments with cuts like “Duplicate,” which has a promising start, featuring an interesting and intimate vocal hook. However the song quickly devolves into the same formula we’ve already gotten several times on this project: funky loops and a decent vocal performance with little to make the track standout from the rest. “Late At Night” manages to get a bit more experimental with some intriguing vocal effects and synths, but this is quickly ruined by “Summerlude.” Although the tropical jazzy angle is a nice change of pace, I couldn’t help but feel like this cut was trying to sell me condoms. As it turns out, it was actually supposed to sell me beer!
The tail end of City Pop is a bit of a mixed bag. “So Far So Good” delivers a more dramatic cut, but at times feels melodramatic without spicing up instrumentation all that much. “Dreamin’” will certainly get your shoulders moving with its infectious beat just before “My World” slows down for a dreamy, chilled out experience. And finally, “Tokyo (Softly)” finishes the project off with a bit of a sexy duet that feels like it could play over a montage in a decent rom com. Unfortunately the collaborating vocalist does not appear to be credited on the song, yet this adds to the sort of mystique and intrigue around Tim’s vague persona and scarce digital presence.
Fans of Benny Sings won’t want to miss this project, as he hits of all his own marks. But don’t expect anything as polished and refreshing as Art or off the beaten path like Beat Tape. At the end of the day, City Pop brings a smattering of decent retro pop to the table. If that’s your thing, then by all means, dive in.