“Searching for the Stranger” – Ben Kunder

4 stars (out of 5)

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“Searching for the Stranger” follows on from Ben’s highly-acclaimed 2018 album “Better Human”, which was a big favourite here at Riot Towers. The production on the album certainly doesn’t follow the live recording ethos. “Searching for the Stranger” is definitely a product of the studio; multiple vocal overdubs and heavy reverb creating an other-worldly atmosphere that weaves and twists its way around you. It’s definitely not an example of recording the songs and doing very little in the way of studio production; the songs will probably sound very different live, whenever we’re in a position to hear them that way.

The opening song “Berlin” is a good example of the approach to production. The song opens with some processed beats and builds with some sparse and doubled-up lead vocals to an almost epic chorus and big string arrangement towards the close. It’s a deeply personal song that uses Berlin as a metaphor, with the repetition of the line ‘Tear down the walls’ throughout the song. The second song on the album, also the second single, “Strangers”, has a more conventional guitar intro and riffs and more multi-tracked vocals and harmonies – the theme of alienation here is one of the threads that runs through the album, with its remote settings and physical and mental displacement. Without getting in to a track-by-track rundown of the album, the third song “Ghost”, builds up from a lone piano fading in, to a full-band finish and deals with sense of separateness and isolation that accompanies the end of a relationship.

But it’s not all melancholy; following the helplessness of “Tornado”, the album ends with its most hopeful song “Spring”, a celebration of love, renewal and the passage of the seasons and a look forward to the future following the previous nine retrospective and introspective songs. “Searching for the Stranger” is classic singer-songwriter material, with songs about relationships, history and alienation, presented in a way that envelops the listener totally as instruments blend into each other and voices are multiplied into a choral tsunami.

“Searching for a Stranger” is out now on Comino Music (BKSFTS001CD).