Ghost Cult recently caught up with Justin Benlolo, the progenitor of the band BRKN Love, who released their debut, self-titled album on February 14th via Spinefarm Records. Although young in years, Justin has actually been working at his craft and releasing albums for many years after coming out Toronto, living all over the country and eventually landing in Los Angeles. We chatted with Justin about his modest start, how the group formed around him into a full band, rather than a solo project, the issues he has had to overcome to get his music in front of people, working with producer Joel Hamilton (Highly Suspect, Pretty Lights), his approach to touring and more.
According to those who are, supposedly, in the “know”, the album is dead and the only thing that we are interested in now, whether on our streaming service of choice, our iPods or laptops are the hits, the single tracks. The album, as we know and loved it, has passed to the great gig in the sky. Nobody seems to have told Jake Smith (aka The White Buffalo) this.
For the past couple of years Smith has steadily built an increasingly fervent following for his beguiling blend of country, Americana, folk and melancholic rock. His progression as a musician has been helped by artistic jumps forward in songcraft, subtlety and nuance and, let’s not be coy here, having a spot on the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed television show, Sons of Anarchy, cannot have done him any harm either.
Love and the Death of Damnation is his latest album and it is, well, fantastic, actually. This is the sort of album that makes you want to take up smoking again or start smoking if you’ve never done it. It’s the sort of record that effortlessly traverses a rich palette of aural majesty: darkened narratives of deals gone bad, loves gained and lost and oneupmanship battles around drinking and shooting pool are just the start of a rich, brooding and utterly captivating record.
The first cut from the album, a humdinger of a duet with Audra Mae, the husky and emotion packed ‘I Got You’, is but one piece of prosecution evidence for a record that is about human resilience, the power of love and strength under extreme adversity.
Smith’s exemplary qualities as a lyricist are in full effect here: he has a brilliant ability to make the general feel deeply personal and emotive: it is a baritone voice that suggests a life lived hard and well, a voice that speaks of adventure and pain, often in equal measure. Smith captures the pyscho-geography of the Deep South with a forensic eye. He has a palpable sense of raw anger at the injustice and failings of the American Dream. Fortunately, this is an artist that, having suffered loneliness and betrayal is optimistic that humanity and fairness and love will prevail, despite the obvious and challenging setbacks that he has faced.
On Love and the Death of Damnation, Smith has succeeded in creating a series of individual tales of love and loss, redemption, survival and the power of the human spirit. Long term admirers of Smith will recognise an artist that has moved beyond a default songwriting aesthetic that was almost uniformly dark.
On this latest album, there is light and shade, an expansive sound and supreme evidence of an artist finding a clear and distinctive voice in the process. Comparisons with other “great” American songwriters are likely to be numerous and obvious. Know this: The Love and Death of Damnation is an evocative record that you will return to again and again. Majestic.
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