Benji Hughes 

Songs in the Key of Animals

In 2008, Benji Hughes released A Love Extreme, an ambitious two-disc debut consisting of 25 ideas for songs. It was exciting, but it wasn't easy to finish. With the exception of "The Mummy," the tracks worked better as demonstrations of Hughes' talent than as finished products. A Love Extreme had a distinct, interesting sound and lots of catchy hooks, but they often failed to come together.

Eight years later, Hughes' second album, Songs in the Key of Animals, has made good on the promise of his debut. Although it's half as long, it's looser and more expansive, exploring the same modal sounds but giving them room to breathe. Where A Love Extreme sounded like a notebook, Songs in the Key of Animals is more like a letter.

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It sheds irony and gains emotional weight as it goes, starting with high-concept songs like "Girls Love Shoes" but finishing up with tracks that are more evocative and vulnerable, like "Song for Nancy" and "Take You Home." The transitional moment is "Freaky Feedback Blues," which would be the single if such terms still had meaning. Start there. It captures the best of the Benji Hughes project, both in its strange vision and in its growing maturity.

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