At first listen, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Benni Hemm Hemm’s latest EP, Retaliate. It was my first experience with the Icelandic singer/songwriter and his 14 piece backing band. Perhaps the sheer size of the band coupled with their country of origin made me long for a sort of cross between Anathallo and Sigur Rós, a sort of impossibly large, largely ambient and occasionally transcendent orchestra. I was, to say the least, a little bit underwhelmed my first time through the five-song disc. “The songs are too slow, too plodding,” I thought, “They don’t go anywhere.” Ultimately, I was ready to write the release off entirely, come up with a short but dismissive review, and call the whole thing a day. Then something happened: I replayed the record.Suddenly, the songs that seemed so boring and underdeveloped on the first record came alive. There was life in every one of “Retaliate’s” gentle guitar strums, a deeper meaning behind the croons of “Blood of My Blood.” In short, the record grows on you. It’s easy to listen through the EP once and grow bored with the songs’ simplistic nature. After all, most of them are based on a simple, unchanging chord progression. However, the more I listened to the record, the more I realized the simplicity is a strength, not a handicap.Unlike many bands that plow from riff to riff without giving you time to contemplate what’s going on, Benni Hemm Hemm forces you to slow down and pay attention to the subtle melodic shifts taking place throughout the record. We hear several variations on each song’s theme, both musically and lyrically. Retaliate does ultimately reach it’s climax on “Blood on Lady Lawson,” a more folk-driven closer that ends the record on an unexpected bang.
Retaliate may take a while to grow on listeners, but once it does, it blossoms into an unexpectedly intimate and emotional album, one that’s definitely worth purchasing.