The record feels like a volume of short stories, narratives tied together by a cast of hapless underdogs and relatable nobodies. Each tale introduces us to a new protagonist and plot, gliding naturally into the next.
This seemingly effortless flow was achieved with the help of producer Kenny Beats. A titan beatmaker with previous collaborators including Gucci Mane, FKA twigs, Rico Nasty and Idles, Kenny solely produced the entire album, a career first for Benny Sings.
The assertiveness of Kenny’s hip-hop contributions and the bumbling ne’er-do-well characters created by Benny complement and balance each other out. Benny explains that they had an unspoken understanding of one another from day one: “He just got what Benny Sings was about, and there’s not a whole lot of people who do. This music can be perceived as soft and happy, but Kenny understood the feeling behind it.”
Citing Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 film Punch Drunk Love as one of his favourites, it’s easy to appreciate the album’s cinematic quality. Like the oeuvre of filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach or Charlie Kaufman, we’re offered a glimpse into the lives of unlikely heroes, lovable losers grappling with loneliness and dysfunction. Benny says of these types of works, “It’s not about the big, loud, dramatic character or situation; it’s small, it’s close up, but it’s never superficial.”
Another inspiration Benny points to is the ‘light verse’ form of poetry. Humorous, brief and playful, the light verse can explore a frivolous or serious subject, but it’s always done with wit.
A track that particularly leans into the light verse is ‘Pyjamas’, which sees him team up with Remi Wolf for a bossa nova-inspired number. This tune tells the story of a man more interested in watching a good documentary on the couch than being between the sheets with his partner, leaving her longing for more. This sexual nonchalance is a perspective we don’t often hear, and like the other stories woven in Young Hearts, it’s an unexpected and refreshing angle.
“I feel like it’s interesting to show that side of masculinity,” says Benny. “Sometimes you just don’t feel like it! And it makes you feel real stupid. Stupid and not manly. It’s just funny to sing about it, you know?”
Remi Wolf’s disco-pop energy shines in ‘Pyjamas’, and her fingerprints are all over the album. “The minute she came in, she got behind the mic and blasted top lines on everything we’d written, and they were insanely clever and catchy. That was my first encounter with her, so I was totally blown away,” says Benny. “It’s funny because even though we’re 20 years apart, we love all the same music. I think we’re coming from a similar place, with what we enjoy and the people we are.”
As a body of work, the album feels like an ode to storytelling. A tragic account of an adolescent romance is spun in the titular track ‘Young Hearts’, whereas ‘Love Will Find A Way’ is a sweet and optimistic ditty. According to Benny, moving away from autobiographical to fictionalised songwriting is a matter of honing his craft.
“I think my skills are now just up to that point where I can do that. I was never interested in expressing my thoughts or exposing my life in a way, but I kept going back to the word love because it’s so easy to use in songwriting and sparkles so much. Eventually, when you sing about love, you end up relating it to yourself.
“I think the songwriting muscle in my subconscious is strong enough that I can dabble with themes without making it about me, and just make things up”.
If there’s a theme uniting all the characters in Young Hearts, it’s yearning. There’s a yearning to explore in the track The World, pining for an unattainable love in Distance and an overarching desire to be seen and understood. In the eighth track, ‘Movie Star’, Benny muses, “There must be something out there”, embodying this sense of undying hope.
“I’ve yearned like my whole life; it’s deep within me. For a long time, I was alone, going to the supermarket, getting my microwave dinner, sitting by myself on the couch and just yearning the shit out of life.
“But at the moment, I’m just enjoying myself, actually. I have three kids, a wife and a career, I’m really living, and that is just the best feeling ever. I suppose that is a bit of a happy ending to the story.”
The third track, ‘Simple Love Songs’, suggests, “There’s nothing wrong with fairy tales and happy ever afters.” And if they result in records this fun, we’re inclined to agree.
Young Hearts is out now, via Stones Throw Record.