Wacky, wacky Sangster and Benson. Here they are, releasing a record called Benson Meets Sangster, implying that they’ve never met each other until these sessions, when in fact, they actually play in a band together! OK, cat’s outta’ the bag. What this is, then, is a collaboration between Rob Benson, singer/guitarist for Seattle popsters Dear John Letters, and Johnny Sangster, lead guitarist for the self-same group. While Dear John Letters took some time off from performing and recording to give Sangster and his wife time to adjust to their new baby, their label suggested that the two get together and write some songs together in a more “experimental” vein than they usually do.
Now, experimental is a relative word with these two, and refers mainly to the duo’s usage of techniques perfected by this one band called . . . er . . . the Beatles, about 34 years ago. You’ll find no Boredoms-style noise-fuckery here — even at their most experimental, their efforts still remain squarely within the realm of “Beatle-esque pop”.
Benson Meets Sangster starts off strongly, with three endearingly lo-fi tunes somewhat reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie. Both Benson and Sangster have twangy, nasal Elvis Costello-ish voices; Sangster’s vocals, in particular, bear remarkable similarities to the bespectacled one. After these three tunes, however, the recording comes across as having been more fun to make than it is to listen to. Starting with track four, the almost unbelievably annoying “Tutorial Pt.1” (in which Benson recites instructions for home recording over the most ludicrous casio beat I’ve ever heard), the duo indulge in a six-song medley entitled “Love = Love”. Obviously patterned after the second half of Abbey Road, the medley is fun, but each individual mini-tune doesn’t quite hold it’s own. There are a lot of good ideas thrown out within this song suite, but in the end, it sinks under its own weight.
Unfortunately, the record never really recovers from this misstep. There’s two more wretched “Tutorial” numbers to sit through, and if you actually make it through those, you’ll find that the remaining five songs lack the exuberance and simple hooks of the first three songs. They’re all chock-full of tight vocal harmonies, clever lyrics and Harrison-aping solos, but not much about these songs really sticks to the gut. The end result is a collection of charming, but lightweight lo-fi indie pop. While that’s hardly the worst thing I can think of, it’s also been done over and over again, and unfortunately, Sangster and Benson don’t really do much to add anything new to the equation.