From the Coltrane-spoofing title to the mix of oddball pop
ock and poignant, lovesick torch songs, A Love Extreme is -- to put it lightly -- an unconventional debut album. Benji Hughes pulls precious few punches, sandwiching 25 songs onto two discs and gracing the cover with his intensely bearded face. While not exactly new to the music biz (Hughes co-wrote the provocative "Let's Duet" for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story in 2007, and folk songbird Priscilla Ahn covered his song "Masters of China" on her first album), Hughes is still a newcomer to the recording studio, and he attacks his debut with the professionalism of a veteran songwriter and the "I wanna do everything!" eagerness of Charlie Bucket in Willie Wonka's factory. Mixing plaintive piano ballads with intergalactic synths, jazz chord changes, drowsy melodies, pop sensibilities, and more stylistic influences than could possibly be counted, Hughes sets himself up as a contender for Beck's throne, should the latter artist ever retire. His baritone vocals are rich and deep, which lends a weary authenticity to the slow love songs that dominate most of the first disc. Hughes sounds his best in full-fledged pop mode, though, whether he's recounting a drug-addled experience at a Flaming Lips concert or chastising a girl for standing him up at the local Dairy Queen. "Even If" stands out as one of the best tracks here, with Hughes channeling the vocal delivery of Jim Morrison and Julian Casablancas while strutting through soundscapes of lush jazz-pop. A Love Extreme is, as its title suggests, an album of sonic extremes, but those willing to sit through both discs will find a number of eccentric, engaging songs, particularly on side two.