“One of the 12 June albums we can’t wait to listen to” (Newsweek)
With Paul Simon, Steve Gunn, Band Of Horses, Swans and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
If it’s a sign of things moving, of a well deserved mainstream attention that slowly, once in a while, reaches an artist that is investing zero on promotion and a hundred on songs, we can’t really say.
But we can say we believed in Ben Seretan from the moment we saw his picture on the cover of his previous album – a perfect representation of the purity of the content with no need for words, and a multiplier of its power – and since then we believe in him a little more each day.
That self-titled record was coming out exactly a year ago. Actually: it came out on limited edition vinyl in the United States, and after discovering it by pure luck and illegally downloading it, we decided it to release it on CD with an extra song.
“Well, very shortly after my last album came out I fell in love very, very hard, an experience that has taught me a lot a lot a lot. I found places to play and wonderful people to hang out with in Italy. I went to the beach a lot. I moved to a much quieter and much more beautiful neighborhood, although I was briefly homeless because of bedbugs, all while I was trying to finish this album. Got a couple of new tattoos. I visited a bunch of the sets from Twin Peaks. My brother and sister-in-law had a beautiful little baby girl. I got older, shaved my head a few times. I played music at my friend’s wedding.”
Ben says that album “was something like planting a flag, saying definitively that I’m here and that I’m alive. Baring my skin to the sun.” Like some sort of debut album, in a way, even if his releases are about a dozen, split between experimental albums and collections of songs.
How about this one? Well, maybe it needs a few more plays to be rightly enjoyed, but it’s a giant step in every aspect: the writing, the playing, the singing, the arrangements, the tightness, the confidence.
It sounds like the peculiar way Ben has to combine diverse influences has been further refined, and focused on some kind of “classic” north american songwriting that reminds us of Neil Young, Gastr Del Sol, Akron/Family, J Mascis, Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, The Promise Ring and many others. But that you will easily recognize as his own, if you know and love Ben. Human, gentle, inspired, in love.
“Still songs that are sung and usually played with a guitar. Two songs featuring a baby grand piano. Less jamming, but one very satisfying guitar solo up top. Tighter songs. Toe tappers. Some really juicy vocal harmonies throughout. A more ‘classic’ feel, perhaps. Lots and lots of slide guitar – the slide guitar kind of binds everything, like ribbon around a christmas present.
Bowl of Plums is a bowl of fruit, a refrigerator door full of postcards, the day after the party, a serene still life with dried flowers, a roll of film with pictures from last summer, a book of hymns to joy. Feeling okay. A greatest hits album.”
A greatest hits album?
“Greatest hits albums take a few of the best cuts here and there from over the years and lovingly package them in a new structure, revealing the hidden undercurrents and through-lines of a life.
I wrote these songs all over the country at different points in the last four years – on broken down pianos on an island in Alaska, on my grandmother’s nylon string guitar from 1953, in my tiny, freezing bedroom at an art gallery in Queens while nursing a hangover… and I worked on the recordings all over, too – in upstate New York, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Portland – with a huge cast of musicians and engineers.
A lot of these songs were hammered out while touring Italy last summer. Some were recorded to analog tape, some were recorded in high-def digital formats, a lot of them are a mix of both. And so the songs all sound a little different, like they might have been taken from a whole career of albums. Each track seems to me to hint at a nonexistent record that might have been made in the last two years. These are the best of them, the shiniest plums. The greatest moments.”
A record that, like the previous one, carries a lot of personal themes and images. Don’t be fooled be the shortness of most of Ben’s lyrics: there are many things behind them, and there’s the rare ability of making them shine, even the simplest between them. All perfectly epitomized by the Eileen Myles poem printed on the back cover:
I’m really all flowers
Inside and you can
Really have them
I’ll name them
Anything else worth adding?
“I’d like to say that falling in love is still one of the greatest things you can do. I’d like to say also that falling in love is all about reflecting one another’s most golden potential back and forth. It’s about being kind, fully, to another and to one’s self. I hope that these songs help someone fall in love.
I’d like to say that all of the musicians I played with and all of the engineers I worked with did an extremely good job. I’d like to thank them for their participation.
I’d like to reiterate that even if you have a weird body you can be free.
I’d like to encourage you to have along conversations on the phone with your friends.
I’d like to mention that I stood in a field of sunflowers after an extremely long day of traveling last summer and it was one of the happiest moments of my life and it’s part of the reason I wanted sunflowers on the cover.
I’d like to say that the goal of finding ecstatic joy is still valid and noble.
I’d like to say that playing music lets me be free.
Uh, I think that’s it.”