If anyone was paying attention to the majority of this site’s content over these past two months, then they’ll be aware of how extraordinary 2014 was for new artists. One record that crept in just before the year wrapped also wound up being one of its best. While it’s impossible to imagine that Ben Seretan’s extraordinary self-titled record will hit the stratospheric heights of popularity that Beyonce elevated with her just-before-close 2013 self-titled, it’s a record fully deserving of similar levels of acclaim. Seretan’s been putting out records under his own name for the past four years, quietly building an absurdly strong discography. No record in the songwriter’s elegantly powerful streak hits as hard as the monumental achievement that this review aims to bring into sharp focus: Ben Seretan.
The breathtaking scope of the record is immediately evidenced by the towering “Ticonderoga”, which not only establishes Seretan’s penchant for mantra-esque writing earlier on but acts as a showcase for his versatility in composition. Elements of genres as varied as drone, post-rock, and math-punk get thrown into a melting pot and escape through an oddly beautiful cinematic lens. “Ticonderoga” also succeeds in illustrating Seretan’s gift with the tension/momentum dynamic, conjuring up an atmospheric peak that reaches a new zenith every time it enters its next movement. Unnervingly hypnotic and deceptively intricate, it’s a palette-setter that succeeds in seemingly every possible way. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the record seems to follow suit in its endlessly compelling roads that lead to that inevitable conclusion.
Masterful guitar-playing augments Seretan’s earnest vocal delivery, each always lending the other an emotional punch that’s impossible to ignore. Nature references garnish Seretan’s lyrics, lending the proceedings an ethereal feel that suits the music to a tee. Organs, synths, strings, and brass drift in and out as the record hums along, never becoming a distraction (this is thanks to the record’s brilliant production and Seretan’s uncanny control over his creations). Only one song- “My Lucky Stars“- clocks in under the five-and-a-half minute mark, while the majority of them exceed seven. As impossible as it seems with those numbers involved, Ben Seretan never overstays its welcome- instead, it excels in creating all-enveloping atmospherics that are built on equal parts restraint and exploration.
It’s that same dynamic that drives one of the record’s most staggering moments- eloquently-titled centerpiece “the Confused Sound of Blood in a Shining Person“. Opening with a narrative adorned with the arresting imagery of a “dead dog laying on a pile of sawdust”, it evokes a very specific place of time and all of the accompanying feelings, right down to the most minute detail, as it swells to an unforgettable climax where the title is- as is so often the case on Ben Seretan– repeated, unapologetic as it lodges itself into the listeners consciousness. While there are a great many of these moments on the record, this one stands as the sharpest thanks to the unexpectedly heavy emotional heft. Only album closer “Swing Low” comes close, thanks to its unhinged cathartic release. Driven by Seretan’s enviably masterful guitar work and a palpable sense of urgency. As closing notes go, it’s hard to best something like “Swing Low” which acts both as an epilgoue for its precedents and a likely foreword for the great things that seem destined to come.
Listen to Ben Seretan below and order a copy from Hope for the Tape Deck here.