By: Martha Kowalski
About two years ago, I wrote a review of Alec Benjamin’s debut album These Two Windows. Now that he’s released (Un)Commentary this mid-April, I’d have to say that my original review still holds for this new album as well. While, yes, of course: this sophomore album is more mature and of a different coming-of-age mindset than the introspective naïveté of These Two Windows, Alec Benjamin is remarkable at being so consistent over the years. My intention for this review, then, is not to go too far into style or production, as it’s not unique to this album, but rather focus more on Benjamin’s poetic and lyrical genius and how he narrates this volume two of an album.
A permanent, key feature of Alec Benjamin’s music is the incredible storybook lyricism. You don’t feel like you’re listening to a song; you instead read a novel in three minutes, with full complex character development, a plot, and unexpected plot twist that plays with your emotions – the best example of this being the song “One Wrong Turn.” I feel like you could easily write an entire analytical literature essay based on this song and its characters and irony. As another example, I think only Benjamin could pull-off using the vocabulary word “hubris” in a song and still make it work, and “Devil Doesn’t Bargain” is definitely my favorite track on the album because of its quick rhyming scheme and overall tone. “Hill I Will Die On” is also another example of clever storytelling, and the chorus of this song has to be my favorite thing about this entire album.
Aside from the mechanics and lyrics, the theme of (Un)Commentary is very much about closure in some way or another – either in finding closure or trying to get over not having that closure, in a relationship or life in general – and I find it’s a very relatable theme. Chasing emotion will only get you so far, and my impression of Benjamin’s social storytelling is not to let the unfinished past get in your way of going forward, even if it hurts to let go of that part of your life. The feeling is especially clear in “The Way You Felt,” which sounds deceptively happy until you listen into the words – a solid relationship abruptly ended on route to Kentucky and leaving behind only a hollow, empty “why?”. Similarly, “Older” describes the same lack of closure not with someone, but with your own self and knowing your childhood is over but you still cling to the nostalgia of the posters in your bedroom. On the other hand, “Speakers” goes in the other direction of not needing closure because you can count on there being someone steady all throughout your life – as consistent as hearing your favorite song playing through radio speakers even after years have passed.
Benjamin doesn’t leave this idea of closure as an abstract theme but goes into his narrative lyrics that it may as well be you putting on your shirt and tie and going down to catch your daily bus while contemplating where you stand in your relationships and in life, and I think that’s why his songs are so powerful. He also is witty in infusing some social criticism into his songs, such as in “Nancy Got a Haircut”, “Nuance,” and more obviously, “Hipocrite,” by creating a situation that most people were probably in before at some point in their lives.
Some final remarks: my highlight tracks on this album are “Dopamine Addict” and “Devil Doesn’t Bargain;” my stand-out moment is, as mentioned above, the chorus of “Hill I Will Die On;” and in summary, my comments on (Un)Commentary are that this is a great sophomore album by a great singer-songwriter in Alec Benjamin.