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Published: 2012/09/19
by Sam Robertson

Marco Benevento

Royal Potato Family

Opening with a flurry of weird keyboard noises, the first 30 seconds of Marco Benevento’s new album TigerFace seem like an appropriate enough intro. Then lead vocals, courtesy of Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver, leap into the fray, marking the first appearance of vocals on a Benevento album. The leadoff track, “Limbs of a Pine,” features Traver’s vocals and Benevento’s thick, lush wall of synthesizers surfing over a dance beat, creating an MGMT-like gem of a psychedelic, new wave rocker. Sure the song might be a bit of a departure from what we’ve come to expect from Marco, but the experiment unquestionably works – “Limbs of a Pine” is the kind of irresistible pop that radio stations all across the country would be playing if they weren’t afraid of non-big name artists.

Traver also appears on the second song, “This Is How It Goes,” which is a bit mellower than the catchy dance rock of “Limbs of a Pine.” Compared to the fast groove of “Limb of a Pine,” “This Is How It Goes” is ethereal and hypnotic, and Traver’s soothing voice fits perfectly. Though vocals are a brand new addition to Marco’s music, this feels like a natural evolution for a musician whose compositions have always leaned slightly closer to rock than jazz.

“Fireworks” follows and finds the Marco Benevento Trio sans vocals, but is quite possibly the most melodic song on the album. With a cascading waterfall of a piano line gently flowing into a gorgeous bridge that will leave the listener with goosebumps, “Fireworks” is a standout. Beginning with 2009’s Me Not Me, which included covers of a number of Benevento’s favorite rock songs, he has been moving towards tighter compositions with an emphasis on melody, and TigerFace feels like the crowning culmination of that journey. While half of the songs on his last album Between Needles & Nightfall top six minutes, none do on TigerFace.

Make no mistake, TigerFace is still plenty weird. “Escape Horse,” propelled by Mike Gordon’s menacing bassline, is dark and explosive, while “Eagle Rock” is drenched in walls of keyboards. “Soma,” which features a quivering keyboard progression that gradually creeps into a peak of hectic synthesizer notes, could be a subtle nod to towards the psychedelic world of Aldous Huxley. After all, “Soma” was the name of the utopian drug of choice in Huxley’s Brave New World, and his description of the fictional drug’s effects – “The inner light of universal benevolence broke out on every face in happy, friendly smiles“ – could also be used to describe the after effects of Benevento’s song.

Somehow Marco has learned how to successfully incorporate more experimental sounds into his music even as it inches closer and closer towards catchy, melody-driven rock. Layers and layers of keyboards are everywhere, manipulated by his circuit bent toys and distortion pedals. These are intensely complicated sound collages with new details beneath the surface to uncover with each listen. But from under the haze of chaotic weirdness that dresses these songs, the melodies shine through brightest.

Perhaps the biggest compliment one can pay TigerFace is that it sounds like a Marco Benevento album. Words like jazz-rock, jamband, experimental rock and more have been thrown at Benevento over the years, but TigerFace defies genres. With shimmering melodies, brilliant keyboard playing and kaleidoscope soundscapes bursting with noisy color, TigerFace is the sound of Benevento’s truly unique style taking off.

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