Ben Khan seemed perfectly poised to fill the Jai Paul-sized gap in all of our hearts back when he emerged in 2013. He had the effervescent and somewhat aloof cool, he was glitched out but retained the ever present 80s guitar licks and had an added penchant for incorporating evocative splices of film into his visuals. In some ways it represented a microcosm of how pop music operates in this decade – the ability to be referential in a way that elicits the world around us. The broader experience of how our era of information overload has the ability to effect us emotionally, and the affect that can be drawn down from it.
A hell of a lot has happened in music since Khan last’s release in 2015, and he has made a point of wanting to make this debut LP in the way he wants to, rather than rushing out a project while riding the wave of hype that preceded his initial EPs. The result is rather puzzling, as for the most part, Ben Khan sounds anonymous in what is, in 2018, an incredibly dense musical field of boundary pushing artists drawing from a humongous range of influences. There are tons of added bells and whistles production-wise that are pleasing individually, but are clutter in a jumbled mash of sound that serves most of the time to bury his vocals. The three year gestation period of this record has not served it well; his ‘difficult second album’ has accidentally arrived in place of the debut.
It’s difficult when an album like this has those individual moments that you can identify as being great ideas that have clearly been parsed over with a fine tooth comb. I can absolutely appreciate the attempt at making a record that is densely kaleidoscopic, but as the old saying goes, too many cooks can spoil the broth. Khan himself has said that he wants this album to “take you out of your reality for a bit, and take you to the start of a fantasy place”. Instead, the effect is rather like waking up from a dream and feeling the memory of it slipping from your fingers, until your grip on it is gone entirely. Did you even have the dream in the first place? Eventually you’re not even sure, and you go about your day as normal.
The year Khan’s last EP came out was also the year that Jam City released his sophomore LP Dream A Garden, an album which has a remarkably similar colour palette. Maybe its an erroneous reach, but where Dream A Garden is grounded and tethered to a sensual tactility, Ben Khan feels like wondering through a fog of blurred neon. There’s nothing to touch. What was that dream I had again?
BEN KHAN IS OUT NOW VIA DIRTY HIT.