Just like the day you first moved in, your family is in your dorm. Eight semesters worth of memories are packed up in boxes. Once you line them up at the door, there’s nothing more to do. You sit on the stripped mattress and stare at the wall. But before you get too lonely in contemplation, your older brother puts his hand on your shoulder and sits beside you with the latest from Alec Benjamin, (Un)Commentary.
(Un)Commentary is Benjamin’s second studio album. It is readily recognizable by his elegant use of language and the uplifting pace of the songs, which offsets the heavier themes they deal with. Filled with little trinkets of knowledge and advice about what it’s like to grow up, this album is the perfect navigation tool for the rocky terrain of adulthood.
The image of graduation comes from the song, “Older”. This is the song where the passage of time is most acutely felt. At the moment of leaving college, the narrator grapples at just how quickly he has reached the threshold of adulthood and how unprepared he feels for it. The song starts softly, with a few instrumentals backing Benjamin’s usual pace, effortlessly quick like grass blades fluttering on a windy day. As we go further in the song, both the tempo and instruments intensify, reaching their apex in the chorus. If I sang along, I’d struggle to catch my breath. This perfectly represents the essence of the song– time is passing by much faster than you can possibly catch up with.
This album is peppered with the multiple conflicting experiences of growing up. If in “Nancy Got a Haircut”, Benjamin narrates the story of a woman with far too many eyes on her, in “Deniro”, he deals with the frustration of being sidelined. In “Devil Doesn’t Bargain”, he wants his friend to let go of a painful relationship. Meanwhile, in “Shadow of Mine”, he contends with the fact that there are things that he will never be able to let go of. “Hammers” presents the contradictory choices made available by power: “If hammers can crush, if hammers can mend/ Then how do you plan to use your hammer, my friend?”. And if you look at where the album begins and ends, you’ll find an insightful contrast that the album journeys through.
In mellow tones, Benjamin begins in “Dopamine Addict”, “Six months clean off the dopamine/ Threw my phone across the wall”. The first thing you’re pulled into is the wretched cycle of addiction, the short-lived rushes which ebb at your strength and turn you into a person you do not recognize. The defining characteristic of this song is the inescapability from this cycle, and even by the end of the song, you haven’t found a release.
While in the beginning of the album, Benjamin brings focus to just how harmfully repetitive life can become, in the end he turns to just how unstable it all is is– you tip the world off slightly and the whole thing topples off its axis. The core of the last song, “One Wrong Turn”, is that “One wrong turn can burn things to the ground”. This philosophical nugget is delivered eloquently through the stories of Jess and Jeff, who each made a simple decision that irrevocably changed their lives. I won’t spoil the song for you, but what I will tell you is that if there is one bridge in the album that you absolutely must experience, it is this one.
This is the kind of album you come back to years after, with all your lived experiences resolving the worries you felt when you first related to this album. And when you find it in your old favorite playlist, you can relive it as someone who now has the knowledge to pass it down to someone else.