by Mark Teague
I wasn’t prepared for Ben Varian’s new album One Hundred Breakfasts With The Book. A preliminary listen reveals a downtempo pop album with a range of instrumentals, some pronounced dreamy elements, a nod to early 60’s jazz-pop, and soothing vocals to round out the sound. Upon subsequent listens, and with some cursory investigation, the album becomes much more than that.
This album exemplifies the mix of discomfort, anger, and longing that typifies late isolation. It is exactly the soundtrack that we need as covid-ennui reaches it’s the most pronounced state. The slow rock and lightness of the vocals almost obscure the satire and cynicism in the lyrics, but this juxtaposition ends up highlighting the very paradox that the album grapples with: the expectations of higher-living, while being confronted with overwhelming evidence of the contrary.
Lyrics asserting the reality of memories by the inclusion of unpolished details, describing the infuriating minutia of the quotidian, and poking fun at any attempt to pacify or beautify, are all set to the soothing sounds of Ben’s voice and an unending list of instruments and styles.
While maintaining a number of complex motifs, both musical and narrative, Varian manages to create an album composed of sonically distinct songs, coupled with open lyrics that spark further investigation. The track-list alone reads like post-modern poetry: “Period Chart,” “Jonie,” “The Floor is a Lady Too,” “Teardrop,” “In the Garbage of My Life…”
“Teardrop,” song nine of thirteen, and one that shows Varian’s range of style and skill, begins with lyrics that could be nonsense verse but, as with the rest of the album, after multiple listens I find myself hearing the prose underlying the poetry. The lyrics “A stranger washing in on ocean foam, a ghostly apparition in your home. I come through on tour, and sleep on your floor, and rename your dog” lead from a flute intro into an upbeat disco chorus combining orchestral strings and synth.
If this description leaves the reader with confusion or difficulty in imagining the sounds described, it is because the album defies most common classifications. It is an indie pop album, while being so far beyond a pop album that the term seems misplaced. Breakfast with the Books is messy in the strictest, cleanest, and most satisfying way possible, and while I am tempted to continue on this string of contradictions in order to sum up the album in its totality, it is best experienced first-hand. This is not one to miss.