Benny Smiles came very close to being mistaken as an aspiring star of novelty music making. After all, his first offering to the public domain was NCAD Girl, a hilarious tune with an RnB style chorus, telling the story of a man and his fascination with female art students. However Smiles, also known as Ross Fortune, uses his début ep ‘Sunshine/Moonlight’ to prove to us that he does more than make songs about obsessive men pining after girls covered in paint.
The first thing you hear on this ep is a three-part, harmonized call of Sunshine, the tracks title, which seems to beckon to the heavens, pleading for an offering from the gods. Their prayers are answered, as we are presented with echoing, atmospheric synths, driven by a rhythmic bass line. Smiles builds the song gradually, adding a pounding drum beat, more synths, and layers of vocals, to make a huge, dreamlike sound. The entrancing mix comes to a dynamic peak, before making a gradual decline, and ends as it started, with a final call of ‘Sunshine’, a grateful thank you for the experience.
Sunday Morning gets going with immediacy, opening with a driving beat, hand claps, and a repeating synth loop that is strangely reminiscent of The Who’s Baba O’Reilly. The track has a completely different atmosphere to Sunshine. Gone is the airiness and dreaminess, replaced by a grounded, gritty sound. This is helped by an infectious, crunching bass line that puts your speakers’ sustainability to the test.
Dainty ditty, and highlight of the compilation, Moonlight sees Ham Sandwich’s Niamh Farrell lending a hand with the vocals. Backed by pizzicato strings and accentuated glockenspiel notes, Farrell’s words tell the story of a girl in an exciting, new relationship, ‘I’ve been waiting for what felt like forever/ for one who fills me up with good terror’. The soft vocal and tip toeing of the plucking strings give the song a delicate, heady air. However, it is kept grounded by the repeating sound of paper being slowly ripped.
The best is followed by the worst, as closing track Not So Far just fails to reach the high standard that has been set by its predecessors. The prompt 2 minute 21 second track uses sampled audio from Mississippi slave fields in the early 1900s, over a largely piano based backing. Like the rest of the compilation, the song is well-arranged and easy on the ear. But, it lacks the excitement of Moonlight and Sunshine. Also, its abrupt ending seems premature, denying the song the chance to prove itself worthy.
With this E.P. Benny Smiles shows that he is a diverse and talented artist. His willingness to use different instrumentation and sounds results in tracks that are varied and unique and aurally tantalizing. It is solid proof that he doesn’t have to rely on novelty to grab an audience’s attention.