Local Arts

The Benji Hughes reaction

“People are animals,” musician Benji Hughes said in a press release for his newest album, “Songs in the Key of Animals,” but the music isn’t what you might think from this album-cover art.
“People are animals,” musician Benji Hughes said in a press release for his newest album, “Songs in the Key of Animals,” but the music isn’t what you might think from this album-cover art. Merge Records

Surf the media’s reaction to Benji Hughes’ work and you’ll find:

2016: NPR, reviewing the new “Songs in the Key of Animals,” says Hughes “isn’t concerned about proving he’s a deep thinker. He’d rather you think of him as a deep groove master ... Hughes is all about creating an atmosphere in which anything can happen, but nothing is left to chance or chaos.”

2016: Pitchfork declares “Songs” is “paced like an episode of vintage sketch show ‘Laugh-In’ – a succession of zany conversational snippets and surrealist injections.”

2015: The Wilmington Star News says, “Watching Benji Hughes perform is to remember why anyone wanted to be a hipster in the first place.”

2014: Vulture.com, part of New York magazine, says “A Love Extreme” is “as if the Great American Songbook had been rewritten in an all-night session fueled by bong hits and Dairy Queen Butterfinger Blizzards” and asks “is Benji Hughes the great pop troubadour of his generation?”

[Hughes talks about the new record, the old record, the albums in between – and a few other things.]

2012: The New Yorker says Season 3 of HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” “holds together so well that it’s worth looking past the ugly ... particularly in the final episodes,” for one of which Hughes wrote the dreamy theme “Kenny.”

2009: Esquire’s Chuck Klosterman writes that Hughes is “the only male singer-songwriter I’ve been obsessed with besides Linus of Hollywood” and that “Love” is “twenty-five songs of pure, enthusiastic songwriting from a man who clearly does not care what I think about his work.” He posits: “Hughes can listen to any rival artist, immediately deduce what element defines the work, and then synthesize the vibe without seeming derivative ... (and) he understands how seemingly impractical details are inevitably the key to likable storytelling. When describing a woman's lips, he claims they taste like candy. What kind of candy, you ask? ‘Like really awesome candy,’ he says, specifying. Excellent! That’s the type of candy I prefer, too.”

2009: Believer mag declares Hughes “one of the best pop songwriters in America” and “Love” “an almost-perfect album that’s never seen the light of day.”

2008: Spin says his “murmuring voice brings a believable everydude quality to witty tales of landlord troubles and great evenings out (‘I Went With Some Friends to See the Flaming Lips’)”; Rolling Stone gives the record four stars, and Blender writes “this is pop that gets out and moves, and has you rooting for the wallflower with the yawny voice to do the same.”

2008: A reviewer on Amazon describes “A Love Extreme” as “Leonard Cohen Meets Prince (with Lynryd Skynyrd’s Stylist).”

2008: PopMatters marvels that Hughes “actually has the cojones to release a double-disc debut” and notes “every so often a few genius rays shine through the stratum.”

1996: The Observer’s Kenneth Johnson on the band Muscadine’s singer-songwriters Hughes and Jonathan Wilson and their CD “The Ballad of Hope Nicholls” (named for the then-Sugarsmack singer): “The 11 tunes lodge deep in the back of your brain, refusing to relinquish their grip for weeks. If comparisons need to be made, think of the early ’70s vibe of Lennon and Bowie ... This CD is a marvel. It’s hard to believe a work this stirring and vital has been produced by a band from Charlotte.”

1995: Johnson quotes Penny Craver, who had run The Milestone, on Hughes’ solo shows circa 1992-’93: “We could tell there was a lot of potential there. He did one of the coolest shows at the Milestone,” including handing out kazoos to an audience of 30. “He’s obviously a good songwriter. This isn’t a ‘roses are red, violets are blue’ type of thing.” In the same story, Reflection Studios’ Mark Williams called Muscadine “a band that’s evolved, on one hand, past any contemporary trends that I’m aware of.”

Helen Schwab

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