Personnel: Benny Sings (vocals, programming).
Audio Mixer: The Stepkids.
Photographer: Sanja Marusic.
Since Benny Sings released the 2011 album Art, he's been a very, very busy fellow. Along with touring, producing multiple acts, appearing on a hit song with Data, and forming new bands (new wave disco duo Copy Club, Coco Tour, and Double Double), he also built a new studio in Amsterdam. Studio, the fifth Benny Sings album, was made there, and while it features plenty of the laid-back, lazily soulful pop that he made his name on, there are a few new wrinkles too. Like on Art, Benny Sings sticks to a pretty smooth middle-of-the-road sound that splits the difference between late-night neo-soul and drive-time soft rock, with plenty of midtempo tunes made for kicking back and relaxing as the luxurious vocals caress your ears and the melodies soothe you. Tracks like "You and Me," the gently percolating "Straight Lines," and "The Beach House" all fit that bill, sounding like the best kind of slow jams, quiet and calm but never boring and very much like the best of Benny Sings' previous work. An entire album of songs in this vein would have been good enough, but Benny raises the stakes just a bit by making a bold stylistic leap. While working on the album he was turned on to the digital production techniques and sounds of the late '80s and '90s, which marked quite a change from his usual warm analog style. It also sounds like he might have been listening to quite a bit of Phil Collins and/or Genesis. The two factors come together on "Whose Fault," which has the cold, nocturnal feel of many Collins ballads along with thunderous gated drum fills, and the brilliantly crafted, over-too-quick instrumental "Start (Part I)," which sounds exactly like a track from Abacab. A few other songs, like the instantly catchy "Shoebox Money," have the drum fills and that PC sound too, which is something that feels like a gift to fans of that approach, but could prove off-putting to anyone not fully into the ways of Collins. Really though, the songs are so sticky, the vocals are so endearing, and the mood is so captivating (partly due to the near-perfect mix by Stones Throw artists the Stepkids) that a few gated drums aren't enough to be a problem. It may have taken a long time for Benny Sings to follow up Art, but the wait was worth it. By almost any metric, Studio is the best album of his career so far. ~ Tim Sendra