If you asked me to name five musicians hailing from Australia, although its admittedly sad, I would most likely not be able to deliver. Even after a few serious moments of thought, the list would likely taper off somewhere between Vance Joy and Sia. Though he may not yet be on the world’s radar, and only recently appeared on mine, singer-songwriter Benfield is a promising new artist to add to this list of talented Australians. With influences like The National and Bon Iver, his latest single “Morbid in the Morning” is wonderfully dark and eclectic.
Benfield is an immediate standout in his ability to artfully manipulate naturally soft vocals against a building arrangement. Although it begins rather timidly with gentle piano notes and soft vocals, it rapidly begins to pick up speed as the beat is introduced. It is masterfully crafted with interweaving moments of tumultuous power and restraint. These crashing highs and lows are guided by seamless threads of winding falsetto. His approach is reminiscent of Ben Howard’s 2014 album I Forget Where We Were, which focuses heavily on the contrast of deep lows and formidable highs to drive the story.
Tackling the emotional inconsistencies of grieving, the roaring ebbs and flows of the arrangement mimic the often cyclical pattern of mourning. He sings, “It’s hard to for me to come to grips with latent things / I know in the end it happens to everything / But I, I guess I’m not alright”. Though it is unclear whether he is detailing a broken relationship or the loss of a loved one, the distinction is unimportant. The brief moments of release and light that are chased by heavy confusion and regret are universal to the grieving process, regardless of the pain’s origin. Capturing the tumultuous feelings that swirl in grief-occupied spaces is no easy task, but is one that is done here beautifully.
The struggles he faces as he passes through the various stages of grief are apparent in the juxtaposition of two particular lines. Midway through, there is a sudden burst in the music as he finds a moment of clarity and release. He sings, “Wanted to feel alive / I guess it’s alright / I’m back in the light”. With this crescendo, there is a sense of freedom as a heaviness is lifted. It continues to build before there is a gentle drop, repeating the chorus again but with altered wording. With a cry he sings, “Wanted to feel alive / I wanna feel alive / I wanna feel”. This subtle change in lyric drastically changes the meaning, bringing the cycle back to the state of confusion in which he began.
A gorgeous interpretation of grief and mourning, “Morbid in the Morning” is everything we would hope for from a new artist. It is compellingly intense and introspective, with the vocals and arrangement merging to tell the story. I, for one, am watching him closely for new music and urge you to do the same as I add “Morbid in the Morning” to my playlist and Benfield to my list of Australian musicians.