ALBUM REVIEW: Ben Vita and the Renaissance Committee, “Biology”

Written by Album Reviews

Progressive, experimental, and yet, so personal and universal. Woodstock, NY-based musician Ben Vita deviates from his history of politically-charged material and creates something truly extraordinary — and wholly refreshing. At a time when Plasticine pop rules, a bit of avant-garde can go a long way.

On Biology, Vita’s latest record, he’s joined by a group of players and friends known as the Renaissance Committee, who unarguably add something invaluable to the album via a wealth of instruments and adventurous creativity. Vita allows them to flow with the music, guided only by inspiration and a bit of loose direction, resulting in a heartfelt depth to many of the songs.

Biology‘s first track, “Michelle,” is about as commercial as the album gets. An easy-grooving, proto-nostalgic tribute to the First Lady, Vita works in a contemporary reality check, and paints Mrs. Obama as a symbol of the modern era (“when the books are written about these times / I hope that she will be our star”). Another standout is the forlorn, but beautiful, “Meiko a.k.a. The Moment,” with its haunting lyrics and hypnotic, free-form outro. Perhaps this, more than any other song on Biology, nails the human experience — the torture of reliving an experience, romantic or otherwise, on a loop inside our minds, wishing like hell to somehow go back and alter it, or at least find a sense of peace.

Meanwhile, “Amazin’ G,” a grungy social justice anthem checks off a laundry list of causes (peace, justice, freedom, the earth). The forboding, ghostly, and, at times, uncomfortably personal “backroom” finds Vita warning celebrity children against the dangers and temptations around them, naming them one-by-one. (Later on the album, a slightly different arrangement of the track appears with the alternate title “Don’t Go In The Back Room, Drew,” addressing Drew Barrymore specifically.)

Honestly, it may be a disservice to refer to the “album” as such, when it’s clearly more of an art piece set to music. Each track explores the phenomenon of sound, compelling the listener not to skip a moment, at the risk of missing an important note, lyric, or hum. Conversely, Biology isn’t swamped with convoluted noise, either — every beat, every strum, every pulse is thoughtfully integrated, meaningful, and seamlessly assembled. Its lyrics contain true moments of poignancy, like the eloquently succinct “life is beauty, not mercy / move on, she says,” in “Martyrs & Predators.”

Though his influences run the gamut — from old-school hip-hop to electronica, from folk to soul — it’s obvious that Ben Vita has created something that’s thoroughly today, a snapshot of the complex baggage that comes from caring about the world and people around us. If folks in the future are writing books about Michelle Obama, I hope they’re also listening to Biology.

SEE BEN VITA LIVE:

Saturday, August 30, 9 p.m.
The Colony Cafe
Woodstock, NY

(with Big Takeover)