In a world where the internet pries into every corner of our lives, the word enigmatic has maybe become redundant. Rising stars usually aim for maximum exposure and spread themselves thin to become the smell of the week. There is rarely any mystery anymore. Once you know a name, you search and find out everything about them. We have reached saturation point and mostly what you discover is dull and falls flat under closer scrutiny.
Brooke Bentham is in a perfect place right now. She is mysterious and releases only just enough to satisfy; but not too much, she always leaves you wanting more. Even her official videos and artwork give little away – just a colour filling the screen, or an image of something other than Brooke. Last year she released ‘Oliver’ a beautiful two track single. Earlier this year she released ‘Heavy and Ephemeral’ on its own as a statement of intent for things to come.. possibly. And now she releases a four song extended player ‘The Room Swayed’, which includes ‘Heavy and Ephemeral’. Again she is giving very little away as the ep cover shows just disheveled sheets, so she is clearly still holding her cards very close to her body. Brooke is either not yet comfortable with her public image, or is happy leaving everyone in suspense. With the quality of this latest release, I can tell you, it is the latter and the cards she is holding are all aces.
The three new songs on the ep are softer than the pounding ‘Heavy and Ephemeral’ (already reviewed here: http://www.brumlive.com/brooke-bentham-interview-review/), but are more intense, more brooding, more heartbreaking. Bentham and producer Ben Baptie, have managed to create an atmosphere which is both claustrophobic and yet strangely uplifting, despite the sadness in the lyric – I guess this stems from the feeling the songs convey of a confessional where she is exorcising ghosts and we feel comfort knowing we are not alone and that others feel the same way too. You do feel you are peering into a bedroom as the characters in her songs fall in and out of love. As a listener you sometimes feel slightly voyeuristic as the descriptions and depictions are so utterly vivid.
The four songs that make up ‘The Room Swayed’ describe the arc of a relationship, from the beginnings in the first song, ‘Nowhere Near Sense’, where the beauty of small intimate details are described by Brooke’s mature, softly spoken vocal. The rhythm is a simple piano line, picked electric guitar and a shuffling drum, but the guitars lines become soaked in reverb as does the voice and it consumes you by the end as she loses herself within this relationship.
The previously released ‘Heavy and Ephemeral’ is next and it is a powerfully rhythmic track, particularly compared to the others here, so it is a great leap in dynamics (personally I think this should have been track 3 as the change comes in too quickly after the sultry opening — but maybe in these times of random play, the track order is of no consequence anyway — which is a shame). It has a stunning vocal performance as always, backed by a solid drum track. I was surprised to see the track included here as it was previously a stand alone track, but I guess within the overall concept of this ep it makes sense and for those who missed it earlier in the year, it is a bonus.
The addiction continues into the third track “I Need Your Body”, where Brooke’s vocals smolder, sigh and cry out. The way she draws out the line “I think I need you, I need you to make my body work” over a number of bars means that you are literally hanging on her every word. The aching and longing she loads onto every word is mesmerising – just listen to when you pleads “Do not leave me alone, I’ll never leave you alone, please never leave me alone”. It is heartbreaking and her use of repetition is hypnotising. I first heard this song live earlier this year performed with just Brooke’s voice and a heavily reverbed Jazzmaster, it sounded wonderful then and this arrangement captures the adolescent fatalism perfectly.
The final track ‘I Loved the Way You Talked’ is an ambient affair with reverb drones and a sparse piano. Of course Brooke’s voice is central and moves from soft to scream to falsetto during the first four minutes, at which point a simple beat starts and a pump organ starts to fill out the soundscape, and then Brooke’s vocal builds again beautifully and powerfully before fading away again, ending with the line: “I don’t want to know you anymore”. If that is aimed at you, or you have ever been on the receiving end of that feeling then ouch – it is crushing. But then as the first line of the song is “Why d’you make me feel so bad, why, why?“, then maybe you deserve everything you get.
The production and arrangement on ‘I Loved the Way You Talked’ sounds like Talk Talk’s album ‘Spirit of Eden’ and you half expect Mark Hollis to start singing over the piano chords and distorted backwards sounds. But if anyone can take his place than Brooke Bentham has the skill and quality to do so.
Brooke’s arrangements and use of false endings in the last two tracks, when it feels as though the song is reaching a resolution only for there to be a new layer added, is so interesting and welcome when we are used to a standard pop formula from everyone else. For someone to break the rules like this, just shows what an awesome talent Brooke Bentham is, and she always leaves me wanting more.
I honestly believe with Brooke’s skill for writing beautifully intense, honest and emotional songs, and her voice, which let’s face it is better than anyone else right now, she has the raw ingredients to be performing for a much wider audience. I am sure everyone who hears any of these four songs will fall for Brooke Bentham’s music like a soppy teenager. If this ep can make me, a grown man weepy and nostalgic, then it will move anyone.
Ever since pop music for teenagers started in the 50’s, songwriters have tried to capture the pain, the joy, the desperation, the hate of being in love at that tender age – it is something most of us have experienced and a subject matter that is always close to a songwriter’s heart no matter how old. I think Brooke Bentham deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Carole King (‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’), Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’) and Rickie Lee Jones (‘We Belong Together’) – she is already that good.
‘The Room Swayed ep’ is released on June 9th as a limited edition 2 track 7inch vinyl (“I Need Your Body” and ‘Heavy and Ephemeral’) and all 4 tracks reviewed here on digital download. The vinyl version is limited to only 300 units so is a real collector’s item — I have mine already and it sounds and looks beautiful, like an old 45 from my youth with its black sleeve and opening to show the label, with 45rpm clearly marked just like old Tamla Motown vinyls… when singles really meant something. And this single really means something. Brooke has considered very carefully that powerful feeling you get during your first serious relationship. She has dissected and exposed the good and bad and laid it out in four beautiful songs. The pain of longing, the confusion, the manipulation, the closeness, the intimacy, the obsession, the desire, and the release when you leave a destructive relationship; it’s all here. And the ending is positive. She went from needing her partner to function to realising she is more capable and stronger without them. From the evidence of every new release it is clear Brooke Bentham is going from strength to strength. I can’t wait for the next instalment.
Reviewer: Alan Neilson
Photo courtesy of PR.