Thoughts: Ben and Bruno – 100 Grim Reapers

I’m not sure how often I’m going to be doing this, but I suspect it’ll happen when I find an album I like enough to write a few hundred words about. Lo and behold, this has happened, with Ben and Bruno‘s first (I think – Wikipedia and google really can’t seem to find a lot on these guys) album, 100 Grim Reapers. Now before I tantalise you with some more information, I reckon I should let you guys know this is a folk album, which seems to encompass anything from melodic guitar/vocal groups to hillbilly Zepplin these days….

This particular album falls into the jurisdiction of the former type of folk, and it does it with an ease that is sometimes a little startling. In one song, New Friend Song, they layer the vocals to provide a dual melody, that sounds almost improvised, and becomes all the more catching because of it. There is a wonderful use of harmony here, and it reverbrates in the stronger moments in each song, pushing forward to create a touching reverbration.

I think that’s the main point I’m going to try to get across here; this album is so damn pretty. The guitar lines are plucked gently, the use of other instruments, most noteably the piano, is used sparcely, to create an overall feeling of delicacy but not in a pouncy way… it’s hard to describe, but I think earnest is another good word to describe the whole album. Apparently it chronicles the life of the eponymous ‘Ben’, going from child to adult, but with this sort of music you really don’t need to listen to the lyrics.

The vocals, too, I think deserve to be blanketed with this term of earnest. They aren’t particularly startling in the talent department, but I don’t think I’d want them to be; they serve the songs better by being slightly cracked, of not quite achieving the notes that they aim for. Perhaps that’s part of the story…. not quite getting what you want to achieve, I know the synopsis of the story mentioned divorce at least.

To be quite honest the vocals occasionally invoke a sense of A Silver Mt.Zion, with it’s almost wailing vocals, half-meloncholy, half-apocalyptic. If you lose the apocalyptic, then you’ve got a good idea of what this sounds like. In the track Take Hold Upon, there’s some vocal work going on in the background that almost sounds like someone stepping on gravel, making little moans of pain as a particularly sharp piece of stone digs into the sole of thier foot, but it all just works in the context of the song, no matter how odd some of these sounds are.

The guitar work is sometimes startling, and consistently good. It’s considerably minimalistic, keeping away from chords to the most part, instead just wafting melodies to accompany the vocals. In perhaps my favourite song of the records, To Fill The Void, the song starts in stops and starts on the guitar, in this constant question and answer way that leaves the indecision almost tangible. When the vocals do come in, they are almost as sporadic, just riding on the heavier notes of the guitar.

So yeah, as you have probably guessed, I really like this album. There’s 16 tracks of meloncholic beauty here, and if you can get your hands on it, (Amazon doesn’t stock it, and I couldn’t find anywhere that does.) I’d recommend it, but if not, you can download a few tracks from their myspace page here.

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About Phill Cameron

I've graduated, had a look at the world, and spat. Now I'm devoting my time to moving from 3/4 of a games journalist to 9/10ths. I figure I can get away with 9/10ths.
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One Response to Thoughts: Ben and Bruno – 100 Grim Reapers

  1. Eric says:

    I came upon your review while looking for cover art of “100 Grim Reapers” to put into iTunes.

    Apparently you can now purchase the album on LastFM:
    http://www.last.fm/music/Ben+and+Bruno

    You might be interested to hear that Ben and Bruno independently produced a couple of albums before this one. I highly recommend both, if you can get your hands on them.

    I managed to find my favorite track on InternetArchive (“Firefly” this version has Breathe Owl Breathe singing backup)
    [audio src="http://ia341003.us.archive.org/1/items/deertickpmb/11_bab_-_likeafirefly.mp3" /]

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