Before you read this and listen to Brooke Bentham’s latest release “This Rapture”, if you haven’t already I need you to listen to and buy her earlier ‘The Room Swayed’ ep from June… I’ll wait for you to do that ok…? You might also want to read a review of that ep here (http://www.brumlive.com/brooke-bentham-room-swayed-ep/). Don’t worry; I’ll still be here when you get back.
OK, now you’ve caught up with where you need to be. It is important though to see this incredible artist develop and progress and improve. I’ll cut to the chase right here and now, this new collection of songs is dazzling. Somehow Brooke has managed to produce five tracks that are individual musical statements, which draw from her earlier material but build upon it — her sound has evolved and intensified. It somehow is even better than before.
Brooke’s ongoing musical partnership with producer Ben Baptie is as if they have found an undiscovered coal seam and they are digging it. They have used a wide sonic palette to deliver Brooke’s songs, utilising a plethora of synths, clean and heavily distorted guitars, backwards reverbs, massive reverbs, drums and drum machines, but always with Brooke’s voice as the focus. And what a voice. Within the last year Brooke has released many new tracks, and you can really hear the improvement and the experimentation in her vocal performance on this ep. But what is thrilling to hear is that she hasn’t chosen the standard screeching female pop vocal that is clearly popular at the moment, because it is always on the radio; Brooke’s voice roars, soars, wails and whispers, but is never harsh. Her performance is mature and human, and never wearing on the ears. I have had these five songs on constant repeat all week and I never tire of them.
First song is ‘Have to Be Around You’, with the glorious contradiction in the first two lines that sets the scene for Brooke’s view on relationships: “Have to be around you… Hate to be around you.” Just one letter changes the meaning profoundly. These simple lyrical and musical ideas are used with such skill, it is easy to forget that Brooke is so young. The arrangements are all well thought out and here the song builds and builds, but never predictably. It hits the stratosphere when Brooke screams: “Make a decision, but please be what I want”. Brooke’s final line is an abrasively sang “I think I love you”, sounding almost like a threat, having previously repeated the phrase “In and out”, which is either talking about falling in and out of love, or referencing Burgess’s Nadsat from A Clockwork Orange. Either way, the effect of the offbeat robotic synth line and the raw human emotion on display is breathtaking.
‘If I Was Dead’ is next and has a close resemblance to a track from her last ep: ‘Nowhere Near Sense’. There is the shuffling drum beat and simple repeating guitar riff, the long held vocal lines and the feeling of despair. It almost feels like a Part 2 of the earlier song and is gloriously melodramatic and maudlin. The line “Still we lie next to each other. In silence. Still breathing” shouldn’t be written by a 21 year old; within that simple lyric, that stark image, is true wisdom.. she is unfathomably good.
The third song is ‘Losing, Baby’; the stuttering snare pattern that snaps in part way through is proof that Brooke is happy to take risks with arrangements. The snare quickly becomes a focal point as it takes up almost all the beats in the bar: seriously, no one else would do this, because syncopation in pop music these days is rare. Nowadays it is all four on the floor and snare on the third beat; Brooke ignores these dull conventions and bravely and successfully conjures up the glory days of James Brown, Nile Rodgers and Stevie Wonder, but with her own style. The video for this track is also worth a watch, with a nod to Dirty Dancing.
Next is ‘Why We Fall’, it is my favourite track on the ep and is slightly different again. For a start, the chorus is in total contrast to the verses, featuring just a single guitar and vocal, whereas the verses are awash with synths and backwards loops, and multi-tracked harmonies that are stunning and remind me a little of Wilson Phillips. As the track feels like it is going to end, a Strokes-esque drum sound kicks in and Brooke’s voice swirls backwards and forwards around the mix looping previous lines. It is beautifully hypnotic.
There is a strong theme to all Brooke’s songs: love, in all its forms. It feels that with Brooke, love is black and white. She loves you… She doesn’t love you.. He loves me.. he doesn’t love me… I guess when you are so young you don’t have a long lifetime’s experience to fully appreciate the many complex levels of grey that love actually is.
The final track ‘Solo’, by contrast with all the other tracks is a very simple affair, with just voice and a heavily overdriven guitar as accompaniment. Even the vocal is treated with distortion and backwards reverbs. The stripped back production reminds me of REM’s “Let Me In”. It shows unquestionably Brooke is an artist of great depths.
What I love most about Brooke is that she could take a pop route and follow in the tracks laid down by the likes of Adele, but she doesn’t; she makes interesting and dark music that will confuse a pop audience – she is a true artist and this is some of the best music being produced at the moment. She really has exceeded all my expectations and this is without doubt her best work yet.
It is also clear that Brooke is not particularly interested in chart positions either, as this 5 track single would not be eligible for chart entry (the Official Charts state no more than four songs on an ep). Although who really ever cared about the charts; isn’t it always about making beautiful records? Well this is most beautiful record I have ever heard.
“This Rapture” is released on 17 November and you can see Brooke on tour this month to promote the ep. Please make an effort to support such a remarkable talent at a venue near you.
Sunday 12 November 2017 – GwdihÅµ CafÃ© Bar, Cardiff
Monday 13 November 2017 – The Louisiana, Bristol
Saturday 18 November 2017 – North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineering, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Monday 20 November 2017 – Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham
Saturday 25 November 2017 – High and Lonesome Festival, Leeds
Sunday 26 November 2017 – The Poetry Club, Glasgow
Monday 27 November 2017 – The Musician, Leicester
Tuesday 30 January 2018 – Prince Albert, Brighton
Reviewer: Alan Neilson
Photograph courtesy of PR