Ben Westbeech There’s More to Life Than This

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Let’s just get it out of the way: Ben Westbeech can sing. It’s something he’s proven before, whether on his own tracks or in the fruitful collaborations (like this one with Soul Clap) that display his soulful crooning. But Mr. Westbeech can produce, too. He's done his time crafting drum & bass as Lean, and, more recently, penning one of 2010’s most massive tunes, “Fatherless,” under the Breach pseudonym. That said, it's a bit disappointing that Westbeech’s vocal talents are so much of the focus throughout There’s More to Life Than This, an album for which the multi-talented Brit enlists a slew of producers to "co-produce" (whatever that exactly means) 11 uneven and rather bland tracks.

As the album rolls out one vocal-driven, hook-laden track after another, it becomes clear that we are in the midst of a pop record. It's not exactly radio-pop (although that sound can vary quite a bit depending on the country), but rather a core of über-accessible, easily digested songs meant to sink into your memory and stay there, possibly even coax you into singing along after a few listens. Taken as such, There’s More to Life Than This is fine enough, with the productions all leaning toward the soul-infused strains of house and pulling mostly from funk and disco influences. The first two singles, “Falling” and “Something For the Weekend,” are both marked by remarkably catchy vocal hooks and perfectly sung harmonies on top of precisely executed, slightly deep disco-house instrumentals. This formula is repeated liberally over the course of the record, with only the uptempo exercise “Let Your Feelings Show” rivaling either of the singles in catchiness or potential mass-appeal. The problem is that even some of the LP's better moments are just too squeaky clean, and the infusion of soul becomes diluted to the point that the album rarely reaches an emotionally resonating moment.

A quick glance at the list of More to Life's co-producers reveals two names that stick out above the rest, Germany’s Motor City Drum Ensemble and UK-resident Midland. Unsurprisingly, these two are responsible for the LP’s best moments. "Justice" is a proper house track, comprised of the heavy, jazz-indebted stylings you’d expect from Motor City Drum Ensemble, with delicious drum programming and a host of synth swells and touches of acid throughout. Following directly after is Midland’s contribution, a slow-brewing, futuristic track titled "Stronger," which sounds surprisingly similar—in a good way—to his edit of "Sun" by Caribou. The unfortunate aspects of these two particular songs come from Mr. Westbeech himself, who delivers two sonically rich-but-lyrically benign vocal performances. On "Justice," he attempts to get in touch with his inner What's Going On-era Marvin Gaye, but instead trots out a host of over-used phrases regarding broken homes, mistreated populations, and the likes.

Truly, there’s nothing outrightly offensive about There’s More to Life Than This, but there’s little to hold on to either. And one can’t help but wonder how in the current climate of the electronic music world—where the pop and underground sects are continually venturing into each other’s territory—such a proven, multi-talented artist could produce something so unadventurous.