REVIEW: Bent Denim - Romances You

Laura Kerry

Bent Denim’s debut LP, Romances You, takes an odd approach to its titular pledge. Both dreamy and gloomy, it lures not with demonstrations of fiery love, but with restrained vulnerability. Comprised of frank and sometimes desperate musings (“When you go to sleep / I’m going to try on your clothes / …So I can know what it feels to be inside you”), the songs unfold like a series of hand-scrawled love notes whose potential creepiness is redeemed by its off-beat poetry.

Part of the appeal of this poetry comes from the fact that—contrary to the timelessness that pop love songs often aspire to (and only occasionally achieve)—it feels perfectly contemporary. On Romances You, Bent Denim expresses what’s not readily discussed in art: the weirdness of romance in the age of Facebook, Google, and Tinder. This comes across most explicitly in the album’s second track, “Caitlin,” a minute-long electronic dirge about the woes of late-night internet stalking. The anxiety and longing (“Caitlin do you like me?”) is fueled by the availability of information, including Caitlin’s past jobs and education—but most painfully in pictures of her “having brunch with friends and not me.” Self-aware and unassuming, it recasts the coolness-in-loserdom sentiments of Radiohead’s “Creep” with 21st-century technological voyeurism.

It’s fitting, then, that this album is a product of another distinctly modern phenomenon: the long-distance band. Bent Denim’s two members, Ben Littlejohn and Dennis Sager, write and record between their respective homes of Nashville and New Orleans, sending each other tracks via email. (The title of their first EP, 2014’s Epistolary, is a nod to this correspondence.) Such a process runs the risk of becoming disjointed or sparse and clinical, but Romances You is coherent and, when it needs to be, lush.

In a musical landscape replete with bedroom-made dream pop, Romances You is also surprising. Just when the drum loops, keyboard chords, and synth layers start to get cozy, Bent Denim injects something new into the music. Because most of the vocals manifest as a subdued, filtered whisper (here’s one more vote for a Sparklehorse comparison), the moments when they break out are particularly striking. In “If But For You,” for example, the voice switches between its usual hurried and conversational whisper and a higher echo, bringing us along for an oddly romantic ride that ends in the narrator’s desire to be unemployed so he can “play with your toys.” There are flowing narrative arcs here—albeit strange ones.

And despite the physical distance of its creators, there’s intimacy, too. In one of the album’s most tender moments, on “Off Chance,” the grinding synth drops out and leaves bare the phrase that begins, “I’ll protect you.” With quietly impactful moments such as this, Bent Denim promises that though their music is filled with longing, they’ll give as much as they ask for.  And they really do—Romances You woos slowly and subtly until, by the end, you find yourself humming along and compulsively going back for more.