The sophomore album from Eric Benoit features electronic instrumentation, difficult themes and ethereal, sometimes obscured vocals, akin to the music of James Blake. The pairing of deeply personal examinations of problematic relationships and synth-fuelled, almost dancey beats is a successful, albeit surprising one.
The intensity shared by both of these elements makes them match perfectly: the music conveys the central themes beautifully, creating an immersive narrative for listeners. This is not only an album, it is a space in which listeners are free to lose – and eventually find – themselves again.
A landscape of emotional outpourings, it presents enough heart to both sting and soothe the soul, a juxtaposition epitomised by “Dragonflies.” Benoit employs language brusque enough to rival The Sex Pistols – ‘Fucking is a disease/ procreation is incest” – as he recalls his child self reacting with disgust to the sight of two dragonflies mating against a backdrop of pluck-synth and gradually intensified syncopated electronic keys and drums.
Displaying such an intense aversion to sex, he is clearly debunking one of pop’s most pernicious tropes – the glorification of sex – to underline the gratuity that saturates the industry with his humorous use of irony.
The sequence does not relent its thematic objective at any moment; Benoit describes – with remarkable frankness – his innermost thoughts and pains, employing straightforward language and refusing to cower behind figurative tools and metaphors. However, he also succeeds in refraining from being overly heavy with the feels, an achievement largely owed to his skilful choice of track listing.
The darkest pieces of the album are followed by instrumental, more sensitive numbers, tracks that provide the listener with respite and space for reflection. Benoit’s depiction of sexual trauma in the poignant “Aristotle”, for instance, is succeeded by an ambient instrumental harmonies that deliver four and a half minutes of tranquility in “Dream”.
Providing scope for Benoit to showcase some of his musical diversity, “Taos” – a melancholic piece focusing on what the artist describes as ‘falling for someone and being too far away to reach them’ – detours from the electronic style governing the album with its indie-folk nature.
Benoit opts for rippling, intertwining picked guitar melodies and gentle vocals, all with just a whisper of synth, whilst maintaining the immersivity produced by the rest of the tracks. Culminating in an uplifting, defiant feel – held together by an outro of crashing guitars and powerful vocals – it reinforces its disjunction from the rest of the album, displaying a glimmer of hope.
Heartrender is challenging, yet well-balanced, an auditory narrative knitted together by slow-burning vocals, explorative tracks and enveloping synth. It’s a courageous second release from the New Yorker; in spite of being a difficult one to listen to, it is a valuable piece of art.