Editor's Rating

Ben Hall strikes gold in a set of moving, self-effacing and bittersweet songs.

9
Bella Union

In a recent interview we did with Ben Hall, aka Mr. Ben and the Bens, he told us about new album Life Drawing, saying “I came up with the idea of calling a record ‘Life Drawing’ and having the lyrical content of the songs be semi-lucid sketches of events happening in an imagined town. Vignettes of character’s lives would play out momentarily and sometimes cross over songs, but without ever being explicit. The hope was that a listener can interpret and inadvertently insert their own experiences of the content, much like I probably have as a writer inadvertently.“

In creating those little vignettes, Hall has evoked the spirit of many of the UK’s greatest songwriters, to make something that, although neatly boxed at first listen into the ‘indie’ bracket, takes as much from Ray Davis, Richard Thompson (they share an innate ability to observe the every day, and tell stories) even Syd Barrett as it does to Belle and Sebastian and that ilk.

It’s all underpinned by Ben’s fragile vocal, and this indie pop backing (all bar drums provided by Hall in the studio), but don’t dismiss it on that basis because like his subject matter, he draws from everywhere, including moments of Kevin Ayers like psych-pop (that tumbling synth line in album opener On the Beach) to the Cate Le Bon like angular pop of Astral Plane, to the frayed indie rock of Danny.

It’s difficult to pinpoint an album highpoint, such is the quality (sometimes childlike in its simplicity, but it adds to the charm) of the melodies that he’s found, although the thrilling harmonies and melancholy of Beast in the House, and the frankly gorgeous ‘How do you do?’ are good places to start.

What makes Life Drawing a really good album (and it is a really good album), is that what Hall has created as a whole is a record packed with some brilliant, touching songs that will stay with you for a long time.