Benny Boeldt

8 of Cups

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8 of Cups Review

by Paul Simpson

Over the course of three albums as Adventure, Baltimore-based electronic musician Benny Boeldt has modified his style from chiptunes to synth pop to IDM, but he's always maintained a hyperactive imagination and an intense focus on melody. His 2016 album 8 of Cups is the first album released under his own name, but it's no less adventurous than any of his previous works. He's taken all of his past experiences and concentrated their essence, while finding completely new approaches to composition, resulting in the most daring, expressive work he's ever produced. Rather than writing lyrics and singing them himself, as on 2011's Lesser Known, he sources vocals and samples from old VHS tapes, building musical instruments out of deconstructed sound fragments. The voices are intensely chopped up and erratic, and they're combined with jittery, rapid beats, but instead of sounding random and chaotic, they sound meticulously arranged and deliberate. As with releases by VHS Head and Oneohtrix Point Never (especially Replica), he uses video cassette soundbites in a manner that transcends mere nostalgia, especially in the way that Boeldt combines them with pastel melodies and rhythmic complexity. His usage of manipulated vocal samples can also be compared to Boeldt's fellow Wham City collective members Dan Deacon and OCDJ (whose brilliant, little-known 2007 album Hooray juxtaposed crunk and R&B samples with candy-colored 8-bit melodies), but even they haven't dreamed up approaches like his. The album's melodies are sometimes strangely calm and dreamy, even when they're providing the bed for intense, jackhammering beats, as on opener "Blue Sky." The album's most playful, humorous tracks are "Tea" (which begins with a sampled dialogue of a woman asking a man how he takes his tea) and "Have a Pizza," but even with grin-inducing vocal snippets, they seem inventive and even serious rather than jokey. The album's most sublime moment is "Phone Call," which forms a wide-eyed melody out of a brief vocal line by singer Sydney Spann. The ecstatic, beautiful song brings to mind the halcyon days of IDM while sounding completely fresh and original. Clocking in at under 25 minutes, the album is far too short, but it's so exciting and densely packed with ideas that several consecutive listens are warranted.

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