Written by: Alex Green
“Our first record won’t be remembered/But our first record will sing,” declares The Glass Notes’ Robb Benson on his band’s debut Dust And Hours.
From indie rock to indie film, never has a statement summed up the plight of art of any kind when it’s shamefully overlooked.
Benson, who with his old band the Nevada Bachelors, once sang in an open letter to Matador Records, “I don’t think we’re cool enough for you/Too radio friendly,” has existed frustratingly on the fringes for years: too indie for the indies and too commercial for the majors, he remains one of the most criminally under-appreciated talents of the last two decades. Benson–loyal fan base aside–may understand the feeling of being artistically neglected, but he’s come to the point in his career, where he realizes that ultimately it doesn’t matter. In fact, he outsmarts everyone on his new band’s debut when he says, “Our first record will sit there/As the building crumbles/As the pterodactyls once again take over the earth…”
In other words, whether it’s Green Day or The Glass Notes, everyone’s record is headed to the same place.
It’s just a matter of time. It’s just a matter of dust and hours.
Benson’s not being boastful: Dust and Hours does indeed sing. In fact, it’s one of the most affecting, rousing and altogether complete debuts to come along in years. The opener “What I Like” finds Benson confessing, “I like listening to some songs over and over/Like a roulette wheel,” and funnily enough, with its catchy chorus, this is surely one of them. “The Muse” is an introspective number about how we talk about feelings and the slashing rocker “Thunderous” percolates and percolates until coming deliciously unhinged. Later, “The Lights” comes across as pure indie rock gospel; “Burdensome” is charmingly rootsy and “Dinner Light” is a pitch-perfect rumination about regret.
I’ve been trying for over ten years to describe how much I love Robb Benson’s voice. He’s got all the pop smarts of McCartney, the peppy hooks of Squeeze and the gritty soul of Otis Redding, and he’s so talented he sometimes uses all three in the span of a three-minute pop song. Benson has an extensive discography with the aforementioned Nevada Bachelors, The Dear John Letters and the Dept. of Energy, and evidence of his talent can be found on any of the cuts of those albums, but if you want to get right to it, The Glass Notes’ “John Wayne” is all you need. The album closer here, it’s an associative number that finds Benson name-checking the N.F.L., digital music, the escalator, mid-Antarctica and albino lizards. But it’s at 2:19 in the song, when Benson, after marveling at man’s modern achievements (“They sent subs to the pacific/Shot a man into Mars/And back home”) asks rhetorically, but poignantly, “Who needs John Wayne?” In the process of this sudden query, he sends his voice straight into orbit where it rises and breaks beautifully against the heavens, showering the sky with sparks.
Not only is this the single most powerful moment in music this year, this is what soul sounds like, this is what frustration sounds like and this is what existential worry sounds like when one realizes that the notion of heroism has lapsed into obsolescence. But most of all, this is what it sounds like to be alive, to be shot in your hummingbird heart with everything from global concern to concern about everyone you love. It’s a voice that’s filled with anger and dismay and sadness and it will bring you to your knees.
Dust and Hours is as much about time as anything else—it’s an album title that suggests life is only dealt out in those two measurements.
In other words, in no time we’ll be nothing, and until we are, all we can do is take as many shots as we can.
And this is a mighty fine one, indeed.