Masterful Lyricism and Artistic Maturity brings “(Un)Commentary” to Life
Issue 16, Volume 112
Alec Benjamin rekindled his lost love for songwriting with his most nuanced and intricate album yet.
Benjamin rose to fame with his 2018 hit “Let Me Down Slowly” and the accompanying “Water Fountain,” which garnered him a greater following after going viral on TikTok. Benjamin’s claim to fame is the relatable metaphors that saturated his 2018 debut mixtape, “Narrated For You.” Benjamin’s success comes from his vulnerable lyrics and intriguing wordplay. For example, “distance is relative / and relative to relatives I have / I’d say I’m relatively close to breaking down,” from his song “Six Feet Apart” (released during the pandemic), highlights Benjamin’s skillful wordplay and vulnerability. His lyricism has become even more layered and impactful over the course of his career, as seen in his second album, “These Two Windows” (2020), an ode to himself and self-reflection. “These Two Windows” saw Benjamin gain a reputation as a particularly present artist, understanding his audience while also preserving his authenticity and musical integrity.
Additionally, Benjamin’s high-pitched, young-sounding voice evokes a sense of empathy from listeners. Benjamin’s singing is often associated with a feeling of comfort and childhood, which complements his lyrics perfectly.
His third studio album, “(Un)Commentary” (2022), provides thought-provoking insight on mental health, privilege, and the decline of uniqueness in society, and presents an intriguing perspective on our political and personal climates. The album’s creative title highlights and acknowledges that Benjamin’s perspective is unique, personal, and, as per the title, uncommon.
The album’s opening track, “Dopamine Addict,” has a catchy tune that sets the stage for the album and immediately grabs the audience’s attention. Lyrics such as “runs in my head, psychosomatic” and “I feel like I'm out of touch, keep thinking I need that crutch” contrast the vibrant, peppy feel created by the lead, bass guitar, and emphatic snare drum. Benjamin highlights the struggles of depression and lack of belonging, and how they can lead to addictions to dopamine or other drugs. “Hammers” sees Benjamin adapt a Lofi, downtempo feel while posing the question to himself of how he’ll choose to wield his metaphorical hammer, which represents his privilege. “Nuance” has a more acoustic, alternative feel, which fits lyrics that discuss how society has slowly begun to forego nuance and individuality in an effort to conform to social norms. Benjamin’s symbolism shines through as he personifies these concepts as an old friend he gradually grew apart from. In correlation with the title, these songs provide commentary on uncommon topics that aren’t always explored in mainstream pop culture.
Even through the political and social meanings, “(Un)Commentary” preserves Benjamin’s unique storytelling style. Part of Benjamin’s distinctive lyricism is his ability to tell a simple story with a nuanced subtext, as he does in “Shadow of Mine.” The melodic yet rhythmic song depicts his experience with regret and how his past, personified through his shadow, follows him around. Benjamin’s lyrics demonstrate his greatest success: his relatability and authenticity, which he exhibits not only in his songs, but also through his presence on TikTok and other social media platforms.
Benjamin’s musical growth is evident in “(Un)Commentary.” His amplification of the production elements reflects a step forward in his maturity as an artist, and contributes to the more complete feel of “(Un)Commentary,” especially in contrast to Benjamin’s previous two albums, which felt unfinished at times. Benjamin’s experimentation with reverb, acoustic amplifiers, and other production elements accentuate the increased instrumental palette of the album. In addition, his vocals shine through even more than they do in his previous albums, as showcased in “Speakers” and “Devil Doesn’t Bargain.” These two songs are among the best on the album, connecting Benjamin’s descriptive songwriting to enticing production and compelling melodies. Where “These Two Windows” (2020) and “Narrated For You” had raw and limp production, “(Un)Commentary” flourishes.
With that said, “(Un)Commentary” is by no means perfect, and, in certain ways, shows regression from Benjamin’s previous albums. Certain songs, like the 2021 hit “The Way You Felt” fell flat, and it felt like nothing more than a stereotypical love song. Benjamin’s attempt to find his name on the charts deviated from his usual style and from the general theme of the album. “The Way You Felt” feels unfinished, placed there to extend the length of the album, which is already limited, to barely over half an hour.
Benjamin’s knack for lyricism sometimes fails him through this album as well. While the message in “Hammers” is interesting and provocative, his preference for internal rhyming leads to the verses feeling contrived, as certain words and phrases serve no purpose but to add to an excessive rhyme scheme. Benjamin repeats this mistake in “Deniro,” which could’ve been an intriguing song but ends up as another distraction to the album’s otherwise promising musicality. Additionally, the album lacks the same flow that Benjamin’s previous projects had. While “These Two Windows” was thoughtfully arranged, “(Un)Commentary” is scrambled and many songs feel misplaced.
Still, “(Un)Commentary” is a major step forward in Alec Benjamin’s progression as an artist. His staple lyricism and catchy production make “(Un)Commentary” Benjamin’s best album yet. However, the album feels like Benjamin’s shift toward Top 40 Pop, which may feel like a betrayal to loyal fans. Rather than trying to stretch himself into a style that he only tangentially fits, Benjamin should stick to his excellent musical storytelling in his unique and boyish style. Whether he maintains his authenticity or ventures into a world of stereotypical Pop music is yet to be seen, but Benjamin is sure to progress as he writes more music.