You know how “Yellow Submarine” kind of makes you want to sing along and is simultaneously the most annoying song ever? Yeah. “In the Countryside” is like that, so it’s not necessarily the best way to kick off a disc that’s only ten tracks long—and the second track, an unbefitting empty nod to hard rock, isn’t the best way to follow it up. Leaving the Nest, the first “full length” from Benjy Ferree on Domino Records, is charming at times and grindingly stupid at others. It was originally released as a six-track EP and later re-released after the label requested four more songs. I experienced the sensation of being in a cartoon one moment, driving on a winding country road the next, and gallivanting with Robin Hood and his merry men the moment after that…or maybe I have Robin Hood on the brain due to the cover art. Either way, Robin Hood fits in somewhere.
There’s whistling, there’s harmonica, there’s fiddle, there’s Americana, there’s bona fide indie, there are lots of strings. There’s even a song perfect for riding a horse very, very slowly through the south (“Little at a Time”). Predictable guitar riffs and percussion abound, but the whole thing hinges on Ferree’s instrumental curveballs and singsong voice—the prettiness of which actually wore on me after a while, so I can’t complain about the length of the album.
“Private Honeymoon”, easily the best track on the CD, is a good example of how Ferree’s wooing voice with soft string accompaniment and an old busted piano can create a delicate waltz. That kind of fragility coexists with grittiness throughout the album, but even the grit is sugared in tracks like “Leaving the Nest (It’s A Long Way Down.)” Basically, Ferree achieves gritty rock about as successfully as the Shins do. Also like the Shins, Ferree has a totally unique style of the something-old-something-new persuasion.
All things considered, this debut doesn’t suck; not bad for a guy who used to be an aspiring Hollywood actor. It’s like a sunny afternoon at the park spent waltzing, spinning, frolicking, and eating pixi stix—so much so that your head kind of hurts afterwards and you feel like taking a nap. Which seems like the appropriate thing to do after the last song (“In the Woods”) with its lingering vocals cooing you to sleep.
– Lily Cutler