Album Review :
Benjamin Daniel - Home Enough for Now
By Casey Gallenberger in Reviews | No Comments
Apart from love, grief is perhaps the most universal experience – arguably, even more so. I’ve naturally gravitated toward more somber sentiments myself. I don’t know exactly when I realized the world could be a pretty horrible place, but it certainly wasn’t far into my childhood. But even within the topic of grief, there are degrees. There’s ongoing illness or abusive relationships, and then there are one-time events that can shatter our realities – for a moment or for our entire lives.
To say Benjamin Daniel’s (Ben Kunz) latest album is solely about the death of his mother would be remiss, but it’s certainly not masked as a primary theme. Take the album’s cover, or songs like “Manna” or “Mother’s Day”. Much like fellow Post Emo compatriot Allen Odell’s album last year, Kunz’s latest effort is weighty. But that’s not the end of the story. Kunz channels the circumstances of Touché Amoré’s Stage Four or Pianos Become the Teeth’s Say Nothing (both albums that I adore), but he reframes the grief and frustration with a certainly humility and longing. This is not the kind of album that ends with certainty, but at the least it gives us a picture of what it looks like to be okay with the mystery of loss.
This time around, the production is much simpler – primarily recorded on an iPhone in a number of locations and finished remotely between Kunz, Odell, and some familiar faces in the scene including Kenny & Claire, Jacob Goins, Former Ruins, Skye Peterson, and Dylan Case White. There’s not the same bombastic energy front-to-back like much of Shelterheart; acoustic guitar, piano, and reverb are the main instruments here. There are pockets of more, like the tight drumming on “Manna” or the full-band arrangement of “Charlize Theron (Death of a Diplomat)”. But this is much closer to Shaping Season, albeit with matured songwriting and a greater sense of gravity.
Sitting at 17 tracks, Home Enough for Now continues the massive precedent Kunz has set with his previous works. In some ways, this feels entirely intentional. Only a few albums deep into his career, Kunz already has laid out a wealth of tie-ins to his other albums.
Take this line from “Life Noise”:
Like sometimes I wish I could have a manly singing voice
Parallel that with these lines from “1999 Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado”:
Tell me, do I sound like a man
When I’m all sad and sing in tenor?
Then there’s “Manna” and its clear parallels to “Green Again”:
Hills don’t remember in the metaphor
Sometimes the references are more subtle, like weaving song titles into the lyrics. Other times, the references are even more complex, like “Subaru Stevens at St. Francis Dam” and its double-entendre message by quoting part of Sufjan Stevens’ “Eugene” (where he’s referred to as “Subaru”) and Zane Vickery’s crash last year where his Subaru earned a reputation for helping save his life. In fact, the record is peppered with incredible specificity, from travels through Oklahoma to dinner parties in Malibu. We are onlookers to situations we see through the lens of dim glass. But there is just enough clarity for us to know what we need. In some ways, this is a musical journal – perhaps more for Kunz than us – and even listening to some of these songs as he ruminates on topics like how he wasn’t able to have a say in how his mother’s body was handled (“1999 Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado”) is uncomfortably-transparent.
Structurally, it seems to follow a similar path of Shelterheart. “Mother’s Day” falls right in the center and is the center of gravity in some ways. And much like how early tracks find lyrical counterparts across the two albums, “Subaru Stevens at St. Francis Dam” pairs with “Jesus in the Valley”, a late-album track off Shelterheart. This comparison has its limits, most notably due to a difference in number of tracks, but the similarities feels pretty significant, with tracks like “Adjustments” and “Surgical Wound” feelings like mirrors. They are sister albums in some ways, though this is the Martha or Leah in the family.
Emotionally, it’s an intense listen. Several songs had me on the verge of tears. “Can’t Keep Up” wrestles with feeling alone away from social stability; “Manna” tries to reconcile God’s timely providence with the difficulties of the desert; “Charlize Theron (Death of a Diplomat)” tackles how niceties can inhibit the reality of the Gospel. Not every song directly speaks to his mother, but life doesn’t happen in a vacuum and suffering is never compartmentalized. As such, we see how Kunz’s pain intersects with work, life aspirations, community, and relationships. We see moments of grace and mercy. We see moments of collective failure and silence.
But Kunz even acknowledges that some will be tempted to hear this album and only see the struggle. Admittedly, I feel that impulse even as a listener. Perhaps the sort of ordinary nature of these songs’ stories makes them taste that much more bitter. We can more easily see ourselves in these types of circumstances, and we’ve reminded our sense of certainty is misplaced. Ultimately, though, the album is strewn with reminders of God’s faithfulness – and reminders that it most often doesn’t manifest in how we might like it to. Home Enough for Now is a story about earthly foundations being rattled and torn asunder. It’s a story about making peace with our weakness and lack. It’s a story about contentment, community, and Christ at the center.