It was a sunny but showery lunch time in Brecon Beacons when I first discovered Benedict Benjamin; Sunday morning, Green Man 2017, more than 20 acts and at least 30 beers into a very, very long weekend. I was ready for a sit down. The Walled Garden stage seemed like the most suitable spot for a bit of a rest. I would sit, with my sandwich and my cuppa, and let whatever appeared on the stage wash by.
But Benedict Benjamin had other ideas.
In a little over half an hour, he put on one of the most captivating sets of the weekend, rivalling the likes of Aldous Harding, Michael Kiwinuka, Angel Olsen, This is the Kit, and Kate Tempest. Okay, maybe not Kate Tempest. Not many can rival her. But still, that is a pretty impressive list to stand out among. His debut album, Night Songs, was the first thing I listened to when I got on the long coach journey back to Manchester. And I listened to it many more times after that, too. He has a soulful voice and a way with words that makes his folky indie stand up strongly against many contemporaries.
I follow Benedict on Twitter (which you should, too, by the way) and had watched the updates on his latest album with a real sense of excitement. His personality shone in all the publicity. There’s a wry humour to the way he presents himself, and I particularly enjoyed the set of childhood photos he used as covers for his singles. I was drawn in. So on my initial listen, I was a little disappointed with the album’s opening.
The first three songs are good, but they weren’t anything new. They weren’t the step forward I’d hoped for. But then came ‘The Way You Talk to Waiters.’ It was an instant attraction; a plucky, driving guitar riff, a simple drumbeat, and a witty and intelligent way of looking at the little things that attract you to a new love. It’s catchy, upbeat, and the first example on Truant of Benedict living up to his potential.
But the examples don’t stop there. The album slows down with the following song, ‘Halo’, allowing Benedict to show off the full range and power of his voice. It’s a stunning little song. The way he delivers the line ‘I’d like to take a while/to enjoy a smile or two’ is perfect and sets the tone for another of the album’s strongest moments.
With ‘Change Your Mind’, we have perhaps the strongest song in regards to storytelling and lyricism. Your attention is grabbed immediately with an opening stanza of ‘Tell me darling are you happy/Now you call yourself free/Is your life getting better/Now you’ve rid it of me’, and is followed by a beautiful five minutes from the side of someone who’s been left by a long time partner. It might not be a unique thing to sing about, but it is presented in a unique and affecting way. Another stunner.
And the album barely lets up from this point onwards, with songs such as ‘Culture War’ bringing a slightly rockier sound which represents the artist’s versatility.
Truant closes out with ‘Motherfucker’, perhaps the sweetest sounding song with a swearword in the title I have ever heard. This is the closest Benedict comes to true folk on the album, with just his voice, the guitar, and a lovely little tale about family, love, and self-doubt. A really special way to close out a pretty special album.
The first three songs may have made me worry about second album jitters, but that is more than dispelled as we make our way through. Truant is a fantastic album which should increase Benedict’s fan base. Here’s hoping.
Words by Fran Slater