Despite being referred to as ‘Music City, USA’, Nashville is not associated with a great number of contemporary artists. Kings Of Leon notwithstanding, it is difficult to name a successful rock band from the Tennessee city, and even the Followills’ gargantuan chart-guzzlers bear no resemblance to Nashville’s famous country music. Benchmarks, however, deliver a stripped back, honest brand of rock ‘n’ roll that holds onto some part of the working-class American, folk origins that their hometown is known for.
Following 2015 EP ‘American Night’, ‘Our Undivided Attention’ is the first album from the band fronted by Todd Farrell Jnr. Unapologetically simple rock songs are characterised by wholesome, warm guitars and Farrell’s reflective lyrics, concerning the singer’s severe ADHD and the trials of growing up. At its best, the charm of small-town spirit is both sad and hopeful: ‘I want to help you find your lost dog, I want to go and see my friend’s band play downtown’ muses Farrell Jnr simply on‘Let You Down’.
The lively ‘Sharks And Minnows’ has vocal and guitar hooks aplenty, sounding like the group enjoying themselves and in full flow. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is scarcely as stimulating, at times proving lyrically rambling as on ‘Thieves And Assassins’, while ‘Days Are Slow’’s lazy chorus scales are just melodically poor.
Sparse opener ‘This Year’ demonstrates the potential of Farrell’s natural vocal style to be genuinely affecting, particularly in its subtler moments. Reprised in the closing ‘Next Year’, the repeated ‘I know next year, things will be better’ gains further potency when sung by voices in unison. It is one of the album’s finer moments, and leaves a not entirely representative aftertaste.
The irony of this Benchmarks effort is that it will hold the undivided attention of few. Although it is refreshing in many ways to hear such a no-nonsense, endearingly simple rock sound, ‘Our Undivided Attention’ is often glaringly average and lacking in inspiration. For Benchmarks to become one of the great Music City exports, there is much work yet to be done.
‘Our Undivided Attention’ by Benchmarks is released on 24th March on SofaBurn Records.
Words by Peter Stewart(@PeteStew_)