Marco Benevento: “Invisible Baby”

There are a lot of stereotypes and preconceptions about instrumental piano music. Marco Benevento knows them all, and, on his debut studio album, Invisible Baby, he blows past each and every one of them. A musical mad scientist with an array of pianos, vintage keyboards, and all manner of quirky musical toys at his fingertips, Benevento has crafted an album that’s rife with improvisation, but rarely flirts with full-on jazz; it’s sometimes rather complex, but it never sounds anything like classical; and though there are moments of real beauty, nothing about it qualifies as New Age.

So what is this music, anyway? It’s probably best to let these genre-defying tunes speak for themselves, though, if anything, most of them could be loosely labeled as pop. There may not be any words, but they’re as catchy and tuneful as anything you’ll hear on the radio, and, on one song (“Ruby”), Benevento offers a direct reworking of a pop standard– although it’s got more in common with a Tom Waits bawler than anything you’ll hear in Top 40 radio.

But above all, this music is fun. Sure, Benvento twists musical conventions and blurs genre lines like a true postmodern, but there’s no winking hipster irony here; these songs are all filled with heart and humor. Trust me, there won’t be many songs released this year that are as achingly melodic and beautiful as “Record Book,” or as infectiously, spastically energetic as the maelstrom of video game sound effects, Casio keyboards, and frenzied percussion on “Atari.” “The Real Morning Party,” on the other hand, is unabashedly campy, but it’s also unabashedly cheerful, even joyful, and undeniably funny. It’s hard not to smile at Benvento’s strange, charmingly twisted genius when the cheesy keyboards give way to a spirited percussion breakdown– and indeed, the same can be said of the whole album, which is irreverent and funny while still being smart and sincere, hip without compromising its beauty and its earnest joy, surprising and sophisticated without losing its tunefulness and accessibility. But more than that, it’s just plain fun, and it’s likely to remain one of the best times you’ll have with a piece of music all year.

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