Marco Benevento's first two studio recordings, Invisible Baby and Me Not Me, took an approach that smashed all of his musical interests together in a delightful, loopy, sometimes slightly insane musical mess of jazz, rock, funk, classical, cartoon, and jam band music. Backed by a rhythm section (usually bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Andrew Barr), he played an array of vintage keyboards (including a baby grand piano with guitar pickups and an amplifier) and "circuit bent toys." His music on those records is unclassifiable, wonderfully humorous, and full of surprises, because it shifts not only genres but textures, dynamics, and arrangements very quickly; often spastically, and he makes it all sound easy.
Between the Needles and Nightfall is a change-up in his approach. With Mathis and Barr, Benevento still uses his array of toys, and he still employs many genres of music, but he’s consciously decided to make this batch of tunes more structural and formal. The musical collision course he's previously charted has been smoothed into grooves, easily identifiable melodies, and actual loops -- in other words, songs. Each tune here, once its theme is established, is identifiable all the way through to its end. There isn’t a lack of ideas here, far from it; if anything there is a compositional framework that is as original as his more abstract work. What is here is a very deliberate attempt at creating a record that can be easily digested -- even ignored, borrowing an idea (and interpreting it maximally rather than ambiently) from Brian Eno -- as it plays. The title track uses a spare set of chords and accents Mathis’ electric bass as much as it does a lilting, nostalgic melody that gradually develops into an anthemic brand of hummable melancholy with martial drumming from Barr. "It Came from You" employs percussion loops, programs, and layers of keyboards that move through drum‘n'bass and eventually morph into a surreal cartoon music whose melody is unforgettable once encountered, even though there are sly solos on piano and organ inside it. “You Know I’m No Good” is like the Ramsey Lewis Trio grooving on a montuno in a Sergio Leone western before it transforms into impure soul-jazz, all the while keeping the groove in the pocket with enough distorted sound effects to shove it into the 21st century. Initial listens might seem underwhelming, but that's deceptive: there is much sleight of hand going on here that repeated once reveal numerous surfaces grafted onto and inside one another. Between the Needles and Nightfall is an excellent introduction to Benevento for new listeners. It contrasts nicely with his previous offerings and reveals a more accessible dimension to a musician so original that he can ultimately only be judged against his own standard.