The recently released Silly Games, his third offering of 2021 is also the closing track in Benny Atlas’ 4-track EP titled Honey Rum. With this compact project, the singer/songwriter is able to cover much ground as he takes us on the age-old, classic R&B record journey of falling in love.
The EP opens with Paradise, a laid back groove with slight Reggae undertones. It is a euphoric and optimistic beginning, with the singer serenading his lover as he expresses the effortless joy that their connection brings him:
“Taking me to paradise, feel like I don’t have to try.”
How You Dare gets a little more vulnerable as Benny chronicles the process of revealing yourself to someone, and the way that lends itself to defencelessness. He slows it down; his velvety voice against the stripped back, sultry production takes center stage.
We’re not lulled for too long, however, because the electro-funk and soulful Keep You is a slightly more upbeat offering, as the story he tells continues to unfold. The combination of Funk and R&B, a tried and tested marriage is arguably the most complementary backdrop to his vocals. In what sounds like it should be performed in the night-time at a cosy live music bar, Keep You reveals a more primal facet of falling in love. “I know it can seem possessive... I keep you to myself, I need it,” he sings. Our main character finds himself having to justify the more irrational feelings that accompany his desire for his lover.
In the closing track Silly Games, he stays upbeat with a merger of Pop influences. His Reggae inspiration comes through in the title of the track that resembles Janet Kay’s classic Silly Games. Similarly to its namesake, Benny sings about a love lost- or rather a love wasted. Despite their mutual interest in each other, the two lovers can’t seem to put mind games at bay and make it work. A fed up Benny borrows the flow from Jenifer Lopez’s If You Had My Love as he sings “give you all my love but you worry about trust, confuse this just with lust”.
R&B is extremely old and extremely expansive, which challenges contemporary artists to figure out fresh ways to set their sound apart. In this project, Atlas does this by leaning into cohesion. There are several common threads that move through the production and packaging that string the 4-track project together. All four tracks were dropped accompanied with cover art that visibly looks like different bits of the same larger portrait. The classic visual of an old car adds to the nostalgic feel that he masterfully enhances with little details like the static of a radio being tuned to the right station in the beginning of Silly Games.
The lyricism, another bright point of this project, weaves the storytelling tightly together. There is a clear progression of a narrative arc through each song; it’s a clear journey from one facet of love to another. The inclusion of this traditional element as he experiments with other non-conventional sounds, serves as a reminder throughout the record that this is still an R&B project.
There is also the consistent infusion of Soul, Funk and mild Reggae undertones in some variation in the production of each song. In a previous interview with The Floor, Benny Atlas references Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley as some of his inspirations. He describes himself as an old soul, which is apt because the last two singles, when he leans a little more to more soulful sounds are superior to the first two, which settle somewhere in the middle. Beyond the musical elements though, Honey Rum is certainly a mature project. It resists following the more mainstream R&B associations with Trap or Jazz, which although have given way to impressive musical offerings, are undoubtedly a more common variation of the genre.
Benny Atlas has been in a game longer than his releases would lead one to believe, and this probably contributes to the grown feel of his music. He has been patiently cultivating his sound and it shows. Now he gets to let us into a musical world that’s assuredly his.