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Album Review

ALBUM REVIEW: Benny Sings - City Pop

February 27, 2019

You might not be super familiar with Benny Sings. But you should be.

The Dutch songwriter (birth name

Timothy van Berkestijn) has been making music for well over a decade, with each release further cementing a cult following around a surprisingly low-key pop powerhouse. Since 2003’s Champagne People, Benny has been pumping out lamentations on love, loneliness, and honestly mostly love. Many people (myself included) had their first exposure to Benny after a stand out placement on Frank Ocean’s blonded radio, where a deep cut from his 2011 album “Art” shocked me with a simple but beautifully written song about the lengths people will go for the abstract concept we call love (aptly titled “All We Do for Love”).

2019 brings a new chapter for Mr. Sings, as his new album “City Pop” is his first on legendary hip-hop label Stones Throw and gives potential listeners a definitive work to dive into the weird and wonderful world of Benny.

At 11 songs and 34 minutes, City Pop is a concise but dynamic collection of songs about love in all its forms. “City Pop” is an oft-forgotten Japanese incarnation of disco that was wildly popular on the small island in the 80s, and whether intentional or not

City Pop

is rooted in city pop. You might know the Youtube-algorithm hit “Plastic Love” by Mariya Takeuchi, this is a perfect summation of the microgenre and an incredible song in and of itself. Interestingly enough, Benny Sings seems to be more popular in Japan than the US, which may have lead to his exposure to city pop the genre (strangely enough, a slightly different version of this new album was released in Japan in August 2018, but titled

City Melody)

 Inspiration aside,

City Pop

the album sounds like late 70s disco, early 80s yacht rock, and lo-fi hip hop anime beats to study/chill to 24/7 were all recruited by two dopey teens to help them finish a music project so they can graduate high school and become the best band of all time in the 22nd century. Saxophones, vocal samples in various languages and soundscapes like vinyl crackle or distant rain are sprinkled across the album, resulting in a genuinely interesting listen. Just as you find yourself falling into the infinite rabbit hole of groove, Dr. Sings grabs your attention with an oddball sound effect or audio clip that feels both out of place and both perfectly timed.

The album cover perfectly portrays the vibe of the LP, at the same time simple and whimsical but much more than meets the eye;

City Pop

is both technically complex and fascinatingly in touch with the most confusing parts of being human. It gleams with ambition while remaining firmly grounded in funk, embellished with a liberal use of auto-tune, warbly synths and grooves that sound like they were recorded by a member of parliament run through a GarageBand quantizer. Benny’s sings in a buttery falsetto that’s too often but also pretty accurately compared to the Bee Gees, but as a singer, his voice is distinct and instantly recognizable.

Early highlight “Familiar” pulses with head nodding baselines and casually delivered but deeply moving lyrics like

How did we live without knowing?

When we touch, it means so much to me

I can't figure out what the deal is

It's a mystery, it's a lottery

But you will know it's real

But the best song on the album, and in my opinion a strong contender 4 the best song of Benny’s career is the penultimate track “

My World”,

a lullaby about the overwhelming emotion a new parent feels for their child. Ethereal synths wooze behind twinkling keyboards while Benny extols his sleeping daughter. Quiet Storm meets futurist R&B with an instrumental that sounds like the ambient music of a late night dive in

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Neo Tokyo

. The intimacy Benny portrays in the disconnected, almost exasperated lyricism of

My World

mirrors what I imagine an emotion that is truly indescribable might be like. The song is moving in ways that are hard to pontificate on but immediately connected with me on a really emotional level. There are plenty of gleeful and delicate moments across the album that I don’t want to ruin with word salad, but My World is an anthem, sis. And that’s the tea.

City Pop a fascinatingly nuanced listen because if you don’t want to pay attention to just how weird and emotionally intelligent the music you're listening to is, the album perfectly happy to lie in background sweetly grooving along while you study, hang out, or even nap (can confirm top tier nap music just put it on loop and pass out). It’s a perfect album for all occasions and can easily tap into different emotions while remaining malleable. City Pop isn’t a “happy album” or a “sad album”, but it has heartbreaking lows and soaring highs that you can nod your head to, any time or place. It somehow finds the sweet spot between quaint minimalism and epic maximalism.

The same can be said about the albums architect, who brings his distinct vision to much more than most would expect of a notable-but-not-quite-famous dutch pop artist. Mr. Dr. Professor Sings has written music for Louis Vuitton & BMW ads and has song placements on HBO & Netflix original shows. You might have heard some of his earlier work playing softly over industrial loudspeakers while you shop under flickering fluorescent Kmart lights and not know it, but you probably would have grooved along while you shopped for whatever you needed at Kmart in 2005 (for me, it was always transformers and power rangers). He has quite a peculiar career and makes music that reflects as much.

If you’re a fan of the “Bedroom Pop” scene that includes factory manufactured artists like Clairo, Gus Dapperton and Boy Pablo, as well as actually alright artists like Rex Orange County (who collaborated with Benny for Loving is Easy) or Toro Y Moi, Benny Sings is a must listen and will probably be remembered as a harbinger of a new kind of pop music all together, based on authenticity rather than sensationalism. My favorite thing about this record is a highlight of this authenticity, as Benny cites his behind the scenes collaborators in writing and composition as features rather than have them remain relegated to liner notes very few people read. I saw the names Mocky, Cornelius, and  Faberyayo and got to dive into three new artists discographies, and the genuine care that van Berkestijn places on the process of creating music is both inspiring and endearing. Also the video for the single “Not Enough” is hilarious and a must watch. Listen to City Pop, tell your friends, family, and dog about his music, and BUY THE ALBUM AND SUPPORT GREAT ART.

Written by: Parker Sanchez Image courtesy of

Album cover by Ryu Okubo

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