It seems as though emo artists themselves are finally starting to realise that there’s only a finite number of ideas in their genre. Whatever definition of emo you’re using, chances are that its already been combined with some other disparate element, and so the best option to take now to stand out is just to pick a style and do it better than anyone else.
That seems to be the ethos of Nashville’s Benchmarks, who just seem to love making life difficult for themselves – not only are they trying to nab a spot in an already overcrowded genre, but they’re taking the route of the widely appealing alt rock / emo hybrid, arguably the most populated branch. It’s little surprise that Our Undivided Attention sounds the way it does then, like a compilation of ‘best emo traits’ mashed into one album. Not only does frontman Todd Farrell Jr’s vocal tone sound uncannily similar to Man Overboard’s Zac Eisenstein, but Benchmarks’ base sound, built on the obligatory foundations of Jimmy Eat World, also finds itself tempered with touches of Balance And Composure, Moose Blood and the other usual suspects. It’s fairly run-of-the-mill stuff, all things considered, but that doesn’t mean that Benchmarks can’t pull out something of quality. Quite the contrary, actually; tracks like Sharks And Minnows and Thieves And Assassins manage to latch onto some fairly sticky hooks, and even some of the more personal lyrical content has some nice weight to it, like the stresses of touring that are outlined on Paper Napkins, or especially Let You Down, whose bright reminiscence of an old neighbourhood sounds fantastic with the crisp, chiming guitar.
It’s when Our Undivided Attention falls into its holding pattern that things begin to go south, and it becomes evident that this is essentially the same album that every emo fan and their mother has heard a million times before. It’s not even that this album is bad either, just deeply uninteresting beyond its obvious, sporadic highlights. But at least if it was bad there would something to talk about, not just a rehash of the same comments made about this sort of thing countless times before. It makes Our Undivided Attention a chore to even listen to, let alone pick apart – tracks like Days Are Slow and When We Were Kids are doubly hindered by a completely derivative template and the inability to find anything to justify their relatively lengthy runtimes, and particularly in the second half, the album finds itself dragging its feet more than it really should. Couple that with Farrell Jr’s voice which is too thin and weedy to match up with a thicker production job that’s admittedly fairly solid, and it makes Benchmarks feel even more like a garage band emulating their emo idols rather than an act who are really trying to break out on their own.
It all renders Our Undivided Attention a supremely frustrating listen. Because bear in mind, Benchmarks aren’t a bad band, and there’s definitely potential to be eked out here. It’s just that they feel too reluctant to really go wild and find their own identity, instead feeling comfortable just playing it safe down a road that’s been trampled so much that there’s not a hint of fertility left. If they would display some innovation or ingenuity or just something that meant that a finger could be put upon what the definitive hallmarks of the Benchmarks’ sound are, this album would be a lot more highly recommended.
For fans of: Moose Blood, Jimmy Eat World, Saves The Day
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Our Undivided Attention’ by Benchmarks is released on 24th March on SofaBurn Records.