~Tirhakah Love (@GoonTherapy)
Okay, look. It’s really hard to make lighthearted music without being corny. Doubly so for an acoustic guitarist. Triply so for those stoic emotional types walking around liberal arts college campuses toting their wooden ax, squawking out unsolicited impromptu performances of “Blackbird” or some other elementary serenade they learned from some pitifully lonely guitarist living in their basement. It’s easy to grow tired of those types because they’re not grounded, they play solely for the admiration of others, and show no reasonable measure of edginess. It’s easy to place an indie artist like Simon Benegas into this mold because he actually does fit the characterization. The Argentinian artist attending Berklee’s school of music in Valencia toured his native land playing small, coffee-house venues with his band of (literal) brothers spreading good cheer and genteel over soft downtempo’s and fluttery harmonics. Taking songwriting more seriously once arriving at Berklee, the band is now taking their gig across the border, but they’ve still got quite a bit of growing to do.
Performing two EPs, The Age of Simple (2015) and Feel It Grow (2016), the band is preparing for a North American tour with an October kick0ff in Brooklyn. I’m sure the Brooklyn crowd will dig it, but what makes it particularly difficult for this music writer is the lack of true struggle on either one of these airy projects. Benegas opts for lullabied tones pointing to Jack Johnson’s In Between Dreams or Cat Stevens entire discography. But what those artists have–and in turn what Benegas lacks–is a sense of realism. Johnson would careen over his acoustic with an urgency contextualized within a framework of the exhilaration and danger of surf culture. Stevens, at the height of his popularity, was indeed subtle, but at least he mixed in some fascinating textures like the djembe and bass to add necessary weight to his sound. Benegas makes no such consideration, thereby inducing an utterly boring levity that doesn’t feel connected to anything.
Because of the relative openness with which the band performs, the audience is most directly drawn to Benegas’ songwriting which–at its best alludes to yearning (“One Desire”) but never goes so far as to adequately describe the true emotion. But at its worst, which, to me, is pretty much the entirety of The Age of Simple, is just tired love songs that touch on unimaginative tropes of the last like 40 years in indie folk. It doesn’t sound like something markedly different. The sole realism is in its bareness and that’s cool for a short period of time–two or three songs–but not for two complete EPs. What Benegas and the band do have going for it, that could possibly translate into proper folk momentum is proper vocal. The lead artist is adept at generating warm harmonizations with every pluck and the backing instrumentals, though nothing truly magical, aren’t necessarily offensive to the ear. This works in their favor because it proves true the band’s desire to truly create “an atmosphere,” which acts as a foundation to creating something better. Hopefully.
It’s hard to make indie folk interesting because it’s a genre that prioritizes nakedness. It is decisively anti-pop which means anti-modulation, anti-tech, etc.. But that doesn’t mean that it’s uninteresting, perhaps just uninterested. What the best folk artists can do — the Bob Dylan’s and the Sufjan Stevens of the world–are able to do is make you feel like none of that high falutin pop shit matters to the sonic world they’re guiding us through. That’s all about context. And both of these EPs lack that. What might prove beneficial to these bros is to take us back to Argentina and tell us how they got here; what the conditions were that made looking upward not just a possibility but a necessity because right now it feels like they’re just strumming in the warm white of painlessness with nowhere to go.