Index of Album Reviews | George Graham's Home Page | What's New on This Site

The Graham Album Review #1851

CD graphic
Click on CD Cover for Audio Review in streaming mp3 format

Ben Abraham: Sirens
by George Graham

(Secretly Canadian Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/16/2016)

Goodness knows there is no shortage of singer-songwriters on the scene. They come in all manner of styles and approaches. With such a plethora of artists, it has really raised the bar for performers to stand out. One can do it with gimmicks or a quirky style or do it the old-fashioned way with intelligent compositions and memorable performances. This week the have the impressive debut of an artist who is of the latter category. His name is Ben Abraham and he is from Melbourne, Australia. His album is called Sirens.

Ben Abraham is the product of a musical family. Both his parents were folk and pop stars in their native Indonesia. Abraham started performing in his teens, but apparently it did not go well. He describes the experience as “mortifying.” Instead he turned to screenwriting, telling stories in that way. But he got back into performing when, during college, he got a part-time job entertaining children in a hospital. He began writing songs allowing the children to contribute to the composition lyrically and that became quite popular, and thus he began pursuing his own music again.

He soon started developing an audience and toured Australia as an opening act for Emmylou Harris, and also began an association with American pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who makes an appearance on Sirens.

Given his background as a screenwriter, Abraham calls his music “cinematic folk,” and there is a kind of story arc to the songs. He says the album is divided into roughly-chronological sections, and in performance, Abraham will sing the songs in the order of the album. He says that he owes the narrative of much of the album to his sense of insecurity and what he wanted to do with his life or what was he going to be known for. Most of the compositions are broadly love songs, but all have subtleties both lyrically and musically.

Abraham has a easy-going tenor vocal but he is able to convey a bit of the emotional uncertainty that some of the songs contain. The overall sound is both surprisingly spacey and atmospheric, and tasteful in that respect. Abraham’s vocals often sound a little plaintive while he includes a fair amount folk influence and slips in instruments like mandolin in the context of the atmospheric sound. It’s an interesting and sonically pleasing blend, with the ambiance helping to convey the kind of ambivalence that form the basis of some of the songs. The sound is surprisingly rich for a mainly do-it-yourself project. Abraham played many of the instruments, and collaborated percussionist Leigh Fisher and engineer Jono Steer. He was joined by a couple of one-named Australian artists who contributed backing vocals, Gotya and Gossling. As mentioned, Sara Bareilles shared some of the lead vocals on one of the tracks.

The album begins with a prelude that sets up the atmospheric texture of the album, the title piece Sirens. <<>>

That leads into a track called Time. The song is rather philosophical in its consideration of the passage of time and the direction one’s life can take. It’s quite appealing, blending some of the pop sensibility of the current decade with some folky undercurrent. <<>>

I Belong to You comes across as largely a straight love song, with folk-influenced acoustic guitar surrounded with the pleasing sonic ambiance. <<>>

A song called She is another track with the interesting combination of more contemporary sounds blending with a more traditional folk-style undercurrent. Its another complicated love song with its creative metaphors. <<>>

You and Me is one of the highlights of the album. It’s a well-crafted song with a sophisticated arrangement, again combining more contemporary elements with more classic-style songwriting. <<>>

Sometimes the ambient approach can reach the point of sounding church-like. To Love Someone features a little brass section which gives a kind of spiritual authority to the lyrics. <<>>

The track featuring the guest vocal appearance by Sara Bareilles is This Is On Me, which also has a kind of spiritual quality in its sound. <<>>

One of the most upbeat tracks on this contemplative-sounding album is Songbird, which can be taken as song of encouragement. <<>>

The album ends with something of a lyrical bookend to the opening track Sirens. The piece is called A Silent Prayer, and later on it gets into the ethereal sound of the title piece. <<>>

Sirens, the new debut album by Australian singer-songwriter Ben Abraham is for me the most impressive first album by a singer-songwriter I have heard this year. Abraham’s production style creatively combines an atmospheric sonic approach with good old-fashioned high-quality songwriting. His pleasing, laid back vocals are also one of this album’s strengths. He can remind me of Gabriel Kahane or Duncan Sheik, or even the late Nick Drake, with the sophisticated musical approach with songs that verge on the melancholy.

Our grade for sound quality is an “A.” Normally I subtract points for excessive studio effects, but the ambient sonic treatment is remarkably well done and tasteful. There also very good clarity to the vocals and most instruments, which is rare in this kind of approach. There are a lot of recent alternative and indie rock albums who pour on the reverb effects and come up with sonic mud. This shows that spaciness can still sound warm and pleasing. The dynamic range is also fairly decent, without too much volume compression.

There are plenty of singer-songwriters on the scene, but every so often it’s nice to be reminded of how creativity and talent can keep the venerable musical format fresh.

(c) Copyright 2016 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
This review may not be copied to another Web site without written permission.

<<>> indicates audio excerpt played in produced radio review

Comments to George:

To Index of Album Reviews | To George Graham's Home Page. | What's New on This Site.

This page last updated March 20, 2016