The beauty of the stream of consciousness that bleeds into both Hughes' lyrics and his melodies is that while it feels sporadic, it doesn’t ever become disjointed.
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. However, songwriter, Benji Hughes pulls this off without pause as he merges his comedic commentary with his poetic earnestness, reaching a well blended middle ground on his latest record, Songs in the Key of Animals.
The North Carolina scribe has written jingle and hook for everyone from GE to Eastbound and Down’s Kenny Powers. He has a clear voice that extends through his eclectic catalogue of jobs; intellectual, melancholic and refreshingly aware.
True to his trends, Hughes’ vast spectrum of music knowledge is showcased all over this sound safari. Bringing forth all the literal bells and whistles, he bounces between decades and genres, harmonies and vocal inflections, baring his moody baritone and eventually leaving it out completely with a lyric-less piano ballad. The beauty of the stream of consciousness that bleeds into both his lyrics and his melodies is that while it feels sporadic, it doesn’t ever become disjointed.
A winter release, the record’s mood shifts like the seasons. Hughes begins with the upbeat, summer friendly, “Pecockin’ Party”, a groovy, harmony-fueled hit suited for the windows down. The record flows through the first half with fun, sardonic commentary and a consistently danceable beat, until it subtly shifts into the present on “Magic Summertime”, where he lyrically laments summer and the tempo takes a breather.
The song titles and language play off his thematic, zoo-inspired script with nonsensical track names like “Zebra” to remind us that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Hughes’ dialogue has no rules. On “Magic Summertime” he uses the word “tragical” to rhyme it with “magical” and, while it’s satirical, it still works when paired with his impressive pop sensibility.
He has an ability to add sonic oddities with seamless pop precision. On "Shark Attack!!!!!!" he includes samples of shrieking women without hesitation until they begin to feel instrumental in nature. But it’s the feminine dialogue, voiceovers and harmonies that really raise this record to the next level. On “Freaky Feedback Blues”, he has a back and forth funk banter, elongating “freaky” and the ladies answering back with a complimentary harmony.
It’s been awhile since I’ve heard “Boom Shakalaka" used, much less infused in a properly executed pop song, but Benji Hughes pulls off strange with a brand of finesse that, I daresay, would be extremely hard to mimic. The first half of Songs in the Key of Animals will be due for a revisit come June, but I’d recommend the piano ballad for winter introspection, now. This Jekyll and Hyde hop from funky to somber on Songs in the Key of Animals caters to a wide a range of audiences and there’s not one throw away track to show for it. Suturing hooks and crafting theme songs has clearly given him a creative perspective unheard in quite awhile.