Ben Anderson is a unique man in the glut of indie singer-songwriters. The four songs of his November 2017 release YouTopia, produced by Olivier Zahm and recorded at Electric Lotus, are a showcase for this Phoenix-based talent. Standing out in one of the strongest music scenes in the country is a feat in itself.
On his fifth release, Anderson has taken his music and tossed it into a blender with a twist. The essences of Thom Yorke, Placebo, and Philip Selway beg attention and reflect the eclectic substance in the quartet of tracks. This makes an adventure for listeners heading in. The vibe shifts easily from dark, haunting rock to pop to soul. The connective tissue is authentic tone Ben Anderson brings, the tonic of this release. Interesting here is the juxtaposition of the music against lyrics. Bright music acts as a counterbalance to dark lyrics, making for a fresh indie voice.
All songs on YouTopia are a collaborative effort by Anderson, Zahm, and a host of contributors. Giving this record its life are Ben Anderson on vocals and guitar; Olivier Zahm on vocals, guitar, bass, piano, keyboard, and percussion; Greg Jacks on drums; Mario Mendivil on bass; Dan Puccio on horn arrangement; Shea Marshall on baritone sax and keys; Danny Doyle on trumpet; Anthony Reed on trombone; Holly Pyle on background vocals; M.S. Kannan on violin; and Ganesan Gajendran on mridangam.
Opening with “Clay Pigeons,” the lyricism supports the titular metaphor with destructive imagery. Lush with guitar and gang vocals, the song was one of the lead singles and accompanied by a video. One of the most haunting tracks from the artist is enhanced by some great production values.
“Absentia” pulls in instrumentation that sometimes overshadows the soft-spoken artist in a good way. Feeling like a dream, the chaos is intentional; piano-driven, feeling like an abstract painting by Picasso. Zahm delivers a piano masterclass here, finding a way to connect with the smoky piano bar, Al Green substance that lurks behind the dark vocal delivery. Following up with the uptempo “Goodbye Serenity,” listeners can be lulled into missing out on the lyrical message. Truly a masterful rabbit out of the hat, this song creates the path that the final track can follow.
Dropping in to the sweet spot vocally makes for a Ben Anderson wet dream. The place of “Lukewarm” in the quartet of songs is a perfect bit of sequencing. Putting the Sam Smith sexy on this song : slow and easy, the song is a satisfying sensual crescendo.
Taking into consideration that art is a combination of all elements, a singer-songwriter has a difficult job. The suspension of disbelief must be based on an authentic connection to the finished masterpiece. If listeners need a visual to go with the audio, the Ben Anderson YouTube loops the musical art. Like fingers intertwined while holding hands, lyrics and music are the spark to this indie acoustic flame.–Lisa Whealy