Mr Benn & the Bens are the brainchild of Ben Hall who has been prolific in his releases over the last 5 years through the band’s Bandcamp page. These vary from low-fi bedroom recordings to experimentation with electronic sounds. As a full band Mr Ben & the Bens have been touring regularly over the last few years with Zac Barford of label mates Sun Drift (worth checking out too) on drums, Lauren Dowling on bass and Tom Diffenthal on guitar. I first saw them supporting the equally prolific ‘The Wave Pictures’ at The Cluny in Newcastle. They came on stage in brightly coloured overalls and wooly hats before putting on a masterclass in indie-pop. Since then they have performed sessions for Marc Riley, released their excellent ‘Happy Shopper EP’ and gone out on their own headline tour. They have a hint of early Teleman in their sound alongside classic indie outfits like Belle & Sebastian and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci.
‘Who Knows Jenny Jones’ their debut LP feels like the culmination of the last two years and features all the best aspects of the band. Touches of the surreal, beautiful melodies and excellent musicianship are the cornerstones of the band. The album follows a narrative of Jenny, a young girl down on her luck living in Pitsmoor Yorkshire in the 1970s. After unsuccessful job interviews she is on her way to a dance she isn’t invited to before being abducted by aliens and once she returns to Earth she has new found dance skills. Your identikit indie band Mr Ben & the Bens are not. Concept albums get a bad rap but this isn’t an indulgent 70s prog album, it’s a weird tale told through short, sharp tunes that work as stand alone songs in their own right.
The album begins with the melancholic title track where we meet Jenny ‘Off to the dance without an invitation’ after another failed job interview. On first listen it seemed the band had taken a detour from the sound of their earlier EP but the album livens up with bouncy track ‘The Edge of a Cloud’. There is hope for Jenny at the dance maybe things are looking up. She takes a shortcut through a cemetery and we get standout track ‘Gravediggers Dance’. The song has a beautiful melancholy, reminiscent of The Smiths. There is light at the end of the tunnel in the lyric ‘No its not too late to appreciate your life’, the gravedigger tells Jenny as he shows off his dance skills.
In some ways the band made life harder for themselves by having to stick to a narrative and the first half of the album doesn’t capture the fun of Mr Ben & the Bens that you get when seeing them live until lead single ‘Transmissions’. Here the band have created a perfect indie gem with a catchy chorus and lovely jingly jangly riff.
The album is full of little surprises like the instrumental track ‘Equestria’ which builds on their usual sound with added synths. After this the album really hits its stride with the excitement and hope of tracks ‘ Celecongratulations’ and ‘Sleeping’ where Jenny is showing off her disco moves. The final track ‘It all collapses in the end’ is all the best things about Mr Ben & the Bens. It has an energy and fizz to the playing that you can’t help but get into, alongside great vocals with the track building towards the end.
Mr Ben and the Bens have a growing following and hopefully for those not already converted this new album will get the band the exposure they deserve. The album is released on Bingo Records and everything the band have achieved up this point has been done off their own stead with a real DIY ethic. It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited for a debut LP but since this album came through the post it has been on a heavy rotation. The album comes on perfect clear vinyl and with a fanzine that gives you Jenny’s full story. This is an album worth investing your time and money. I’m looking forward to seeing them live again soon and for their next release, which probably won’t be too far away. Keep up the good work guys.