Play Pause Stop – The Benevento Russo Duo
Butter Problems/Reincarnate Music
The hook only comes once, and nearly a minute-and-a-half into the song at that, but it's enough: a random chorus of wordless vocals, whoa-oh-ohing, atop the band's otherwise instrumental groove. Enough to get one listening to the rest of the song, at least, which happens to be the opening (and title) cut of the Benevento Russo Duo's Play Pause Stop, and — ideally — the rest of the album, knowing that the band is capable of pulling off such moments.
The song travels over its eight minutes: a quasi-ambient noise jam, stereo-panned bleeps and wiggy digi-voices, a Rhodes reprise that recalls Radiohead's "No Surprises." As it happens, the hook doesn't actually return, but by the time one can determine that for sure, another three-note pattern has begun. This time, in "Echo Park," keyboardist Marco Benevento surrenders it freely, over and over. It's not as special, but it's no matter. Like nearly everything else on the album, "Echo Park" is much more efficient.
What is most surprising about Play Pause Stop is the (theoretically) organ/drums-driven Duo’s durability as songwriters. Beyond drummer Joe Russo’s pounding intro, the warm keyboards of "Best Reason To Buy The Sun" are one sunshiny Paul McCartney bassline and one lead vocal short of sounding like an R.E.M. summer jam circa Up. The guitar-driven "Powder," with its aching Benevento counter-melody, meanwhile, has all the meticulous yearning of a post-rock instrumental. The album’s true gem is the disc-closing "Memphis," which begins as a cowpoke strum before bells trace an ephemeral melody and warm strings and organs swell sympathetically. Later, waves crash and a bright, new line — every bit as transcendent as the title hook — insinuates itself.
The Duo are not without their indulgences. The shimmering "Something For Rockets" repeats for maybe a few too many choruses, and the long wall-of-sound jam on "Hate Frame" seemingly ends several times before its conclusion just past the eight-minute mark. Still, played for a civilian, Play Pause Stop would hardly be pegged as the product of a band that started its career as another post-Medeski, Martin, and Wood hippie-jazz act. In fact, the jazz is mostly gone and — more significantly — in the album’s most successful moments, it is absent entirely (at least from the surface).
It's an impressive achievement for the Duo. While both Russo and Benevento are virtuosic musicians and impressive improvisers (especially Russo), Play Pause Stop — whose icons can be read spelling out the letters D, U, and O — seems to be headed in an entirely new direction that even the jammiest of the jam jammers haven’t quite grokked. Whatever it is they think they’re doing — jazz, post-rock, indie-hippie-raga-slamshit — the Duo are headily singular.