Benni Hemm Hemm – Retaliate

Release Date 26/07/2010

By Chris Gilliver

As soon as I’m told an artist’s Icelandic my ears prick up. There’s a beautiful, alien, otherness captured in the music of Mum, Sigur Ros and Bjork. I grew up in the suburbs, live in the city and these sublime musicians take me on escapist trips to the windswept glaciers and mountains of Iceland via Wonderland…possibly with some hallucinogenics thrown in for good measure.  It’s like going on holiday in the comfort of my room. Benni Hemm Hemm’s Icelandic so automatically he’s in my good books.

Immediately BHH makes it clear that he wants to stand apart from his country’s stereotypical stuff – as if moving to Edinburgh didn’t make this clear already. Instead he sets about emulating English and Scottish folk heroes in a faintly underwhelming way. Retaliate is less flying over volcanoes in a magic flower petal-rotored helicopter, and more down to earth, fireside troubadour.

Pink Moon era Nick Drake is all over this mini album, especially in the delicate sensitivity of Benni’s voice and gentle strumming. There’s also a similar sense of imminent doom (of which a pink moon is a sign). Retaliate is something of a bloodbath – albeit committed with humility and feather dusters. “Blood” is mentioned three times in the mini album’s five titles as elsewhere knives, vampires, the Taliban and more blood make frequent appearances. Such murderous talk is a necessary counterweight to the music’s lack of substance – for if the lyrics are as heavy and poisonous as lead, the music is lighter than helium. It’s too light. There’s a massive need for some of the bloodletting to spill out into the music, which is predominately too soft to be truly enjoyable.

Perhaps Hemm Hemm needs to take more note of his native contemporaries’ thirst for the bizarre to add a much needed dimension to his makeup.

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