Release Date: Jan 29, 2016
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
If Tenacious D or Weird Al decided to create a super serious breakup record it might feel a little awkward in contrast to their widely known parody personas. To be the trademark “funny guy” and be simultaneously taken seriously as an emotional artist is a strange balance. This is especially true when you’re the guy most widely known for the Captain Morgan theme song.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There was a lot of good music released in 2015, and for me personally, some of my favorite albums were by artists whose music took influence from various strains of the '70s singer-songwriter period, from the sunny AM pop of Tobias Jesso Jr. 's Goon and Natalie Prass' self-titled debut to the cutting Newman-esque wit of Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear, and the Laurel Canyon folk-rock of Zervas & Pepper's gorgeous and sadly overlooked Abstract Heart.
The front cover for Benji Hughes' Merge debut features an oil painting-rendered photo of the hirsute, North Carolina-based pop purveyor sporting aviator sunglasses and vampire teeth. However, what lies inside is not the swampy, True Blood-inspired cacophony of sultry, Southern gothic twang that Songs in the Key of Animals' misanthropic cover art would suggest, but a breezy, easy, and often cheesy amalgamation of girl-crazed blue-eyed soul and Chateau Marmont bungalow pop that falls somewhere between Beck, OutKast, and Harry Nilsson. "People are Animals," says Hughes in the album's press release, and he takes that notion quite literally on the two-disc, 11-track LP, applying his well-honed production skills and goofy sense of humor (this is the man who helped write the brilliant "Let's Duet" from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) to a set of left-field pop confections with titles like "Shark Attack!!!!!!!!!!," "Zebra," and "Peacockin' Party.
Opening with a funky rundown of the guests at the Peacockin’ Party, including a monkey, a donkey and 'a penguin in a tux lookin’ so deluxe', Songs in the Key of Animals begins sounding like the Bojack Horseman concept album nobody asked for – hardly an outlandish prospect from the man whose debut was a double-album titled A Love Extreme. A subsequent track documents the friendliest shark attack on record, pairing shrill screams with whimsical synth lines, but Hughes soon leaves the animal kingdom in favour of tongue-in-cheek love songs delivered in a mellow blue-eyed soul style. More They Might Be Giants than Father John Misty, the humour is light-hearted throughout, and Hughes is a gifted arranger, breathing warmth into his knowingly pastiche compositions with a bit of tenor sax here and an interesting counter melody there.
Benji Hughes has a knack for making the kinds of songs that people don’t want in their heads. As a jingle writer, the North Carolina musician set Captain Morgan’s skeezy "Got a Little Captain in You" slogan to music, penned tunes for Verizon and GE, and assisted in giving Nelly’s "Ride Wit Me" a cereal-themed makeover for a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial ("ay, must be the honey!"). For some artists, this advertising work might serve as an interesting bit of trivia—no more relevant to their music than any other day job.
On A Love Extreme, his 2008 double-LP breakthrough, Charlotte, North Carolina native Benji Hughes expertly bottled the seductive lure of summer with stories of the real thing—madcap parties, Flaming Lips shows and epic summer romances. The poolside party beats and synth sparklers were made even more effective by their contrast with unrequited-love ballads delivered in Hughes’ warm, laid-back croon. Hughes revisits similar thematic territory (with an anthropomorphic twist) in his latest record, Songs In the Key of Animals, his first for Merge Records.