By Rhiannon Green
An unconventional pairing of melancholy verses and psychedelic backdrops, BENEE’s debut album is experimental in all manners of the word. Born Stella Rose Bennett, BENEE is relatively new to the music scene aged only 20 yet has already achieved considerable success, gaining national recognition at the New Zealand Music Awards. On a global level, however, it is her 2019 single ‘Supalonely’ – made famous through its use on the social media platform TikTok – that has placed her well in the spotlight. BENEE’s nonchalant style and sombre mood evokes the likes of Billie Eilish and Lorde, but it is the pairing of this with an electronic and alternative pop style that makes her unique, situating her music firmly outside the box.
The album, titled Hey u x, is idiosyncratic in its incorporation of several genres and styles, meaning that it is never quite clear what BENEE is trying to achieve. One thing can be said though, and that is its ambitious intention to convey a plethora of moods, with a somewhat deliberately limited vocal style. BENEE sings of feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as a desire to form and maintain close relationships, all of which have been commonly felt during periods of enforced lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is perhaps what has made tracks such as ‘Supalonely’ so popular over the past few months, with depressing subject matter being addressed in a quirky and fun manner.
The album opens with ‘Happen To Me’, a song displaying both an upbeat tempo and somewhat sombre lyrics. This contradiction seems to be a characteristic trend of most of the album, which pairs melancholy verses with energetic instrumentals. ‘Kool’ is another example of this, discussing feelings of embarrassment, and incorporating eccentric sounds that are reminiscent of Foster the People’s second album. In contrast, the single ‘Snail’ is redolent of some of BENEE’s earlier music, with random lyrics representing a lockdown daydream. The featuring of unusual electronic sounds conveys images of video games and nineties disco, perhaps a nostalgic nod to the influences of the nineties and early noughties.
BENEE has previously supported the likes of Lily Allen and Conan Gray, with the former being featured on one of the tracks off the new album, ‘Plain’. This track also features the rapping of Flo Milli, and as such is an odd mixture of different genres, showing a break from the constraints of convention. ‘Sheesh’, featuring Grimes, is another example of stylistic experimentation, showing off BENEE’s electronic tendencies with a fast-paced tempo and use of voice modification. This puts this track firmly in the clubbing music category. The incorporation of Grimes feels slightly ill-fitting in its whimsical and calm interlude, yet somehow works to create a more layered and diverse track.
‘Night Garden’, the album’s leading single, features both Kenny Beats and Bakar. A blend of hip-hop and pop, this track explores a story of paranoia that is simultaneously playful and unsettling. Here, rap fits in seamlessly, with an array of sounds creating a versatile listening experience, inspired by a Wu-Tang Clan track. ‘Winter’ also fits into this style, featuring Australian indie-singer Mallrat, with the opposites of the deep undertones of the guitar and light vocals creating an almost hypnotic sense about it. Tracks such as ‘A Little While’ and ‘C U’ are more simplistic in their layering of instruments, with honey-sweet vocals creating more of an intimate feel. Enigmatic lyrics are accompanied by a delicate stumming of a guitar that is more calming in contrast to some of her other tracks, such as the energetic ‘Same Effect’.
‘All The Time’ boasts the smooth lyrical voice of fellow New Zealander Muroki, paired nicely with indie guitar interludes and BENEE’s own calming tones. This is followed by ‘If I Get To Meet You’, which shows BENEE’s vocals to be somewhat slurred in nature, making many of the lyrics seemingly illegible and redundant against the lively beat. It appears BENEE consciously decided to swamp her moody vocals with eccentric sounds in a mismatched combination of styles, yet this somehow blends nicely and makes for an interesting listening experience.
Overall, BENEE is candid and unapologetic in her experimental debut. Whilst the randomness of the album gives off the impression that it was released prematurely, BENEE is evidently not constrained by genre. Hey u x is a versatile and quirky album, yet to listen to it all in one sitting is a somewhat overwhelming experience, and it would not hurt to be tidied up a little.
Image: Spencer Halse via Creative Commons