Deep Elm Records has long been renowned for being one of the foremost carriers of "emo." There's no doubt that Deep Elm has had some solid releases in that contingent, such as The Appleseed Cast's End Of The Ring Wars, and Cross My Heart's Temporary Contemporary. In addition, the long running Emo Diaries series has been a staple, featuring for the first time bands such as Red Animal War, Planes Mistaken For Stars, and Benton Falls. Benton Falls were first showcased with a track called "Tell Him" on Emo Daires Vol. 6. Three short months later in 2001, we had Fighting Starlight. Some people might be turned away by the 'emo' label before they're able to give this a listen, and that's really a shame.
Benton Falls does so many things well, but a good point to start would be the vocals. Singer Michael Richardson has one of the most honest and engaging voices music has heard in a while. You'll find this to be in the vein of Mineral, Knapsack, or Sunny Day Real Estate; not exactly bad company. Such a sincere and emotive voice will make the lyrics, dealing with such subjects as alcohol dependency and heroin addiction all the more poignant, and makes them hit you that much harder. The guitar swirls will lull you in, and every line of every song will hit you harder than the last. Richardson's voice flows effortlessly through the songs and has a way of putting such dark subject matter relatable to those who've never felt what's being sung about. The album's best track "No Hero" deals with heroin addiction, and does it in a very hard hitting way. "Black eyes, arms were skinny / I did not recognize, your pale face / White like bleach / It's hard for me to preach / When everyone's to blame." Pardon the cliché, but the lyrics accompanied with the vocals really do pull on your heartstrings. Equally heart-wrenching, "Sad Like Winter Leaves" (what a gay emo title, lolz Oi Oi Oi!) tells the story of someone whose alcohol dependency has outgrown everything else in their life. "He stood in line at the grocery store / A bottle of wine and nothing more / An empty apartment to go home to / It'd been that way since nineteen seventy-two / A line on his face for every year she'd missed / A scar on his arm for every time he tried to follow her." The slow pace of the song helps bring the point across further, engulfing your senses and putting you right in the music. The song ends with a gut-wrenching repeated scream of "let it go..." The screaming is rare on this album, but when it's there, it adds even more impact to the song than what originally existed. The lyrics throughout are well written and only serve to further the experience with Michael Richardson's vocals.
Lyrics and vocals are important, yes, but overall musicianship has to be tight for a complete package. And luckily, Benton Falls delivers there as well.
This album is a sweeping musical experience, going from being lulled by near spoken vocals to distorted guitars and anguished screams. It's a full experience with tempo changes, layered guitars, and drums that never miss a beat. Richardson also handles lead guitar duties, and pulls it off quite well. There's such a raw feel to the vocals that the clean guitar sounds contrast them to perfection. The clean guitars, emotive vocals, and subtle tapping on the snare drum all put the listener in such a surreal sense of calm, that you're sucked in for the album's duration. But there are those more up-tempo songs on the album, with their crunching guitars and screamed vocals, with a real sense of urgency. Like this is a band who's got something to prove, and not much time to do it in. But the tempo changes come off so efortlessly, as in "All These Things" and "Always Behind A Smile," that you'd have never known they had a softer side at all.
This is a solid release, folks. Deep Elm has done well for themselves to sign this band. Or they did, anyhow, because to the best of my knowledge this band has broken up recently. After releasing 2003's Guilt Beats Hate. A shame if it's true, as this was then a band with so much to offer. If you like anything on Deep Elm's roster, this is definitely something you'll want to pick up. Or if you're a fan of emotional, well-played and intelligent music, this is also something you'll do well to check out.