October 11, 2007


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Ben Jelen, Ex-Sensitive
Custard Records, July 17
The thing that stinks about most of the Ben Kwellers and Ben Swifts that hit this desk is that they’re such Bens, i.e. you’d never mistake their full-band-backed buskings for songs from full bands. That’s not to pooh-pooh the better-run dictatorships in music; when you think of “Bruce Springsteen” it’s impossible to picture him without Clarence Clemons or Sil from the Sopranos. In welcome contrast to the other Bens (and Jesses and Noahs and whatnot) of the world, this Ben writes as though he’s got to convince a whole band, not just himself. Here’s one for the drummer who digs VNV Nation ballads (“Pulse”); here’s something for the Guster-head guitarist (“Where Do We Go”), and so on. Even more formidable is Jelen’s writings for his own personal hockey-arena fantasies, which is where the songs have hooks of titanium (“Just a Little”) and you can actually smell the Grammy or blockbuster soundtrack gig. Meantime his filler is on par with Jack Johnson’s or, jeez, Paul McCartney’s. A little coyly placed Queen guitar doesn’t kill the buzz either (“Vulnerable”). AEric W. Saeger