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Ben Abraham - Sirens (Review)

Ben Abraham, Sirens

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BEN Abraham seems to be channelling some very impressive artists on debut album, Sirens. We’re talking the likes of Elbow, Peter Gabriel, fellow countryman Josh Pyke and even Newton Faulkner.

It’s no small praise to compare him favourably with any of those artists. But Abraham also ensures that Sirens contains an identity of his own too. And his music has already captured the attention of a certain Zane Lowe, who has hailed him as “a remarkable new singer songwriter who definitely understands the craft”.

Certainly, his song-writing is shot through with quality; whether it’s the intelligence and emotional resonance of his lyrics or the scope of his accompanying instrumentation.

He starts as he means to go on, too, with the epic title track Sirens. That’s not to say epic in length; more epic in scope. At first, there’s an atmospheric electronic, followed by a stark Guy Garvey-meets-Peter Gabriel style vocal. And then there’s almost some hymnal layering before Abraham let’s fly with an almighty roar. It’s ethereal, it’s cinematic, it’s a statement of intent. And it only lasts for barely two minutes.

But Time, the track that follows, immediately draws you further into Abraham’s song-craft and world. Shot through with lamentful lyrics such as “nothing stays the same” and “time waits for no man”, this manages to be bittersweet and beautiful in an Elbow-esque kind of way. The chorus, especially, could be delivered by Garvey, while the thoughtfully layered instrumentation that is a hallmark of Elbow’s song-writing is present and correct here.

If the comparisons abound, then I would underline that they are a good thing. For while Abraham is undoubtedly a major star in waiting, it does him no harm to be positioned in such mighty company.

And while he does moody magnificently, he’s capable of lightening up too. I Belong To You combines heartfelt lyrical romance with upbeat drum beats and some lush acoustic strumming. It’s another early highlight… and one worthy of comparison with the easy style of Josh Pyke.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that perhaps the album could do with more of that style of track… they’re too few and far between. But if Abraham relies on slow-build more often, that’s taking nothing away from the way he injects such songs with a lot of beauty.

She, another ode to love, is shot through with echoed harmonies, acoustic folk and soft vocals that melt the heart while engaging the brain (“she is a casualty of my uncertainty”); Collide shines with its keen mix of warm melodies and lyrical uncertainty; while To Love Someone is disarmingly powerful in spite of its minimalist instrumentation. Again, it tackles the theme of romance.

The Peter Gabriel comparison returns somewhat for This Is One Me, his duet with Sara Bareilles, which builds into something of a Don’t Give Up moment for the LP, while Speak is another of those songs that impresses by virtue of its apparent simplicity, yet effortless beauty. Its lyrics really do resonate, while their delivery is beautifully realised (even entering into falsetto territory).

On an album comprised of 13 tracks, Abraham certainly doesn’t skimp on quantity or quality. Somebody’s Mother is another slow-builder of subtle beauty, while Songbird quietly soars. A Silent Prayer draws things to a close, meanwhile, in gentle fashion, yet again underlines the strength in Abraham’s lyricism and his confidence in their power… he is content to wait until almost the third minute to usher in any shift in momentum but does so with care not to undermine the gentle simplicity of the song as a whole.

All told, Sirens is something of a tour-de-force. And that’s not bad for a debut!

Download picks: Sirens, Time, I Belong To You, To Love Someone, This Is On Me, Speak

Track listing:

  1. Sirens
  2. Time
  3. I Belong To You
  4. She
  5. Your And Me
  6. Collide
  7. To Love Someone
  8. Home
  9. This is on Me (feat. Sara Bareilles)
  10. Speak
  11. Somebody’s Mother
  12. Songbird
  13. A Quiet Prayer