Steve Benjamins’ Sightlines starts with plaintive vocals, the barest of drums and an electronic hum. Things build slowly from there all the way into We Used To Live’s triumphant crescendo. Throughout the whole affair something seems to be holding the build back. His voice never matches the rise of the music. It could be meant as a counterpoint, but it feels more like a failure. In fact there’s a lot of stuff here that feels like maybe I’m just missing the plot. Sometimes songs feel unfinished, but rarely does it seem like Benjamin is making mistakes, just making decisions that don’t pan out.
On first listening the electronic sounds don’t quite seem to fit. They feel like they’re there either out of convenience or familiarity, when a less adorned, more acoustic approach would actually fit his lyrics and delivery better. Is he scared of letting his voice carry the crescendos? Is he letting the music carry the more bombastic, dramatic elements to depict a world swirling around his flatter vocals? Benjamins is sometimes capable of raising his voice, but never quite to the occasion it seems.
Is it a failure of vision, a mistake or a failure of my perception? It’s difficult to tell. I think a lean towards the more honest singer/songwriter elements that are present would have made for a better album. The mostly piano led Steamroller manages to make some impact, and the electronic adornments seem unnecessary. During the more wide ranging Exploding Boy it sounds at points like Benjamins’ voice has been cut into a remix. Since Benjamins is the sole creator it seems strange to have elements that don’t mesh properly. It’s like there’s a disconnect between his musical and lyrical minds.
On the positive side nothing is done so poorly that these questions are obscured by poor production or out and out bad songwriting. The most immediate surface elements are all easily absorbed. Once the skin has been peeled back it’s difficult to figure what the entrails are for though, and difficult to not walk away rather than keep poking. Steve Benjamins is straddling the line between melancholy singer/songwriters and the token slow song on an electronica release. Maybe that’s a line that doesn’t need to be straddled.