Music

Providence's One-Man-Band

A local artist layers sounds to deliver a dynamic perfomrance

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Ben Walsh began playing music as a self-taught guitarist just out of college in Connecticut. After a brief interruption and a move to Providence, Walsh got himself a small looping sampler and immersed himself in the work of artists like Keller Williams and tUnE-yArDs. He became thoroughly interested in the idea of being able to create and perform drums, keyboards and guitars by sampling and triggering loops and sequences and the idea of “being my own band.” Inspired by Keller Williams’ stage setup of up to a dozen instruments, Walsh started playing out in Providence, conjuring up his own tunes out of layers of sampled and live instrumentation. “The audience gets to see and hear each song grow from a lone drumbeat to a full arrangement before their eyes,” says Ben.

While Ben admits one of his primary goals is to make people dance with his music, he also confesses a desire to make people think as well: “I want to use my music as a tool to make people stretch their thinking, to confront difficult and even unpleasant topics, to find purpose – something beyond romance, partying and earning a living.”

Lyrically, Ben Walsh’s songs are idiosyncratic vignettes littered with casually tossed off observations on the absurdities of modern existence. Not exactly a groundbreaking concept on paper, but when hypnotically chanted and infused with a wry sense of humor as on “No Guarantees”: When the hurricane comes/ You’ll be fine if you started with nothing. Or, on “Net Dating”: I’d like to see your data... Walsh manages to avoid dark-hearted cynicism in favor of a light airing of grievances.

Musically, Walsh fiddles around in a glitchy, electronic territory explored by the aforementioned Keller Williams and tUnE-yArDs but with a gentle, coasting voice akin to Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard. On “Nightlife” the track eases into existence with the barest of percussionary backgrounds along with a spare horse-trotting guitar line. Xylophone and multiple layered voices make up the body of the track. It plugs along quite nicely before fading out in washes of sound as gently as it arrived. “Net Dating” is a more conventional guitar driven indie rocker, with crunchy instrumentation, lackadaisical drums and a dirty, low fidelity aesthetic. Walsh dips back into 00s indie rock with “Kleenex 05,” with the driest of guitar sounds and fully quirked-out lyrics about the vague relationship between music and the products and sales that ride its coattails. “No Guarantees” is the clearest example of Walsh’s musical vision: a softly building track based around layered and hypnotic vocals set alight by a simple drum track and a spare piano. It’s also Walsh’s prettiest song by far and the best entry point into the strange and kaleidoscopic world of his music.

Ben Walsh’s self-titled debut is available online as well as Frog and Toad and Three Sisters on Providence’s East Side.