Thinkbendy’s 2017 release: “Change”

Album Review by Brooke Losey

On CHANGE, Bendy champions self-examination— specifically in life’s small moments that are easily overlooked. He cradles and jolts the listener into realizing that progress doesn’t happen in the murky, distant dream of idealized abundance. Instead, Bendy imagines we must be willing to adapt, or more simply, to change. He loosens our grasp on what we think will make us happy, fostering acceptance of the world and awe of the every day. He gives tender reassurances like in the track Epiphany: “Every day is a story… Even when we wonder why.” CHANGE explores sonic range that obliterates the listener’s expectation of the band’s modest instrumentation; unassuming and profound, like the “small” moments he encourages listeners to embrace. Bendy’s hope extends beyond himself, beyond rose-tinted visions of growth without struggle, and into a realm of perpetual arrival, as we “Move On” to our endlessly evolving minds and worlds.

Bendy’s not just trying to entertain listeners with utopic ideas of mindfulness. He’s also tearing down the mysticism that veils progress and peace by showing the listener how much power they have, in lines like “Your mind can take you there, No reason to be scared” on the track Free. Bendy makes this power even more potent as he writes from many perspectives; a citizen of the world, a romantic partner, a band member, an individual examining his past. As he considers the mindsets rising from each of these identities, he charts shades and mixtures of everyone’s inherent power, and how we impress ourselves into the world.

It’s hard to talk about self-examination without mentioning love, both for the self and for others. Bendy sneakily unfolds the concept of love throughout CHANGE. He uses specific examples of compassion, attention, and selflessness to hint at the countless forms in which love emerges. For instance on the track Spark, he sings, “What’s the difference, then, between innocence and love?” Amidst a recollection of meeting a loved one, this moment seems to burst with its own kind of enlightened laughter. Each track deals with love in a subtle, often unexpected way. Yes, he sings of love for people, but also for small pockets of time, eras, curiosity, the obvious, the inexplicable. Listeners expecting to hear about romantic love may be shocked to see its many permutations, or to see that love could be so simply disguised in the first place.

Bendy’s language is relaxed and direct, like he’s narrating a holy vision to a cherished friend. As such intimacy requires, he holds his lyrics to an incredibly high standard. He encourages the listener with urgency cushioned in patience— like on the track Change, in which he coos “No time to observe and think, Caught in the reality of life.” He makes himself vulnerable, skipping flashy poetics that could cloud his meaning. Bendy practices the unity he believes in, saluting the inherent togetherness of society— with the exception of a heated reference to “the one percent remain content” compared to the struggle of the lower ninety-nine. (Who would argue with that?) Bendy doesn’t dwell on our perceptual and practical burdens, like feeling cynical or constantly pressed for time. Instead he describes them with such sharp accuracy they’re difficult to brush away. These briefly stated burdens linger in the melodies, echoing back reminders of why we must be strong. What sets Bendy’s songwriting apart is that he gives specific actions for the listener to keep in mind. He rises above the music to declare that his ideas can only matter if they’re carried out, if individuals hold themselves responsible for cherishing their moments, for channeling love and a willingness to change.

The mastering on this album, provided by Bendy and Alex Lusht of Mind Ignition Studios, is irresistible. Each instrument is clean and distinct with just enough space to shimmer and explode on its own— a true indulgence for listeners who enjoy dissecting a layered sound. At the same time, Bendy occasionally slows down from the full instrumentation into quieter moments of one- or two-part melodies, building anticipation as if time itself has slowed down and expanded. Rather than a lapse of energy, these moments reel the listener in closer. Again, we get the sense of sitting beside a close friend, sharing a moment of honesty.

This clean production also means the musicians of thinkbendy must lean on their technical ability to generate momentum—the heartbreaking piano intro to “Easy,” for example. Sharp guitar riffs consistently defy our expectations throughout the album, ranging from syrupy to crunchy, jam rock to prog. On occasion, the album’s clean texture is disrupted with effects that make CHANGE’s soundscape enormous. Some light reverb on a whistled tune in “Can I Ask You a Question” lends a casual, hazy solitude. Ann McInerney’s ethereal flute work revisits this effect on “Of One Mind” with an ambitious ascent through the track’s increased tempo, a true awakening. With songwriting like this, you’ll thank the vibrant production for showing off each smoldering guitar riff, drum fill, and gorgeous syncopation on CHANGE. The instruments’ seamless gestures to each other are occasionally interrupted with rhythmic pauses and switches, jarring the listener into the moment, beckoning them to keep up and stay on their toes. This is at once welcoming and startling; Bendy pulls the curtain back on himself, exposing the small moments he advocates as the ultimate spaces for growth, for change.

Bendy channels his nuanced hope with triumphant, swelling melodies, eerily tinged with minor tones that characterize CHANGE. While each track offers a variety of song structures that keep the listener guessing, each track is loyal to this thick texture of eerie triumph. It speaks to the depth of spirit and agency we have in our lives, shrouded in the freedom and sadness that follows the realization, “you have always been free.” It manages to sympathize with the overwhelming fact that we contain more than we can consciously perceive, while encouraging the listener that taking control of our power is easier than it may seem; that we don’t have to try so hard. The texture’s persistence reflects that soothing our insecurities is a constant process, as is finding beauty and inspiration in the world at large. There’s no finish line for discovering and exercising our powers. The album’s emotional trajectory is packed with surprises, moods constantly taking unexpected shape. Bendy keeps the listener guessing.

You might not expect it based on the soulful examination in the lyrics, but some tracks on CHANGE are completely danceable, (see “Can I Ask You a Question” and “Spark”). Crisp grooves roll through the entire album, driven by Bendy’s relentless electric pianos. At times the keys swirl, soft and ruminative, peeking under stones. Other times, they’ll pound boulders away in unison with the percussion, daring speed and boldness, always agile. It’s a wonder that this range of energy can be wrought from the same instrument, let alone from the same meditations in Bendy’s mind. And beneath it all is the guiding growl of Bendy’s bass. It sweeps together dissonance, creating an equalizing place for melody and vocals to meet. It’s the backbone of CHANGE’s texture, rolling effortlessly between the eerie and the rowdy.

If CHANGE features anything more sincere than its desire to guide listeners to personal wellness, it’s Bendy’s vocal performance. Similar to his lyrics, there’s an adamant current in his voice that’s impossible to contain. It’s as if his visions erupt from him and he must physically push himself to keep up with this own voice. This extremely human moment of surprise at his own power dovetails beautifully into his devotion to change; to the idea that our capacity for growth is always a few steps ahead of our ability to understand it. His nimble energy soars in one moment, then delicately croons with nearly folk-rock tenderness in the next.

Bendy’s voice is timeless yet haunting. It creates an infectious sense of being rejuvenated with something as simple as breathing. Once the listener thinks they have a grasp on the richness and range of Bendy’s vocal emotion, in come the subtle harmonies. As we see with his strategically placed production embellishments on the instrumentation, the vocal harmonies hit hard like spontaneous mirror halls that force the listener to (try to) recalibrate themselves.

CHANGE experiments with perspective, placing you in the backseat of your past and also behind the steering wheel of your present reality. In so doing, Bendy proves the adventure of a fruitful life is, and has always been, within reach. CHANGE begins with “Sunrise,” bells tinkling as when one is caught in the haze between the dream- and waking-worlds. CHANGE ends with “Move On (Free Reprise),” where angelic synth chords fling the listener upward, into the awareness that something unimaginable awaits. It’s an album for spiritual inspiration, or, if you don’t feel up to that, you can simply crank it and rock out.