Review: Ben Kessler’s “Violet”

With the release of his second EP Violet, Ben Kessler is cementing himself as a force to be reckoned with among his singer songwriter peers. Like all of his previous music, the songs on Violet are painfully detailed and honestly crafted- made all that much better by Kessler’s voice which wears every single emotion right on his sleeve. I dare you to listen and not feel something.

2022 has proven to be a huge year for the singer, headlining his first two shows and just coming off of a European tour with friend and frequent collaborator Lizzy McAlpine. He shows no sign of stopping with the release of Violet, which Kessler himself has called a collection of the best music he has ever made (so far). A bold statement for sure but I can honestly concur- it’s difficult to ever doubt him when every single release is this damn good.

Opening track “April” was released nearly a year ago and has been in constant rotation ever since. Lyrically, it finds Ben in a hopeful place- setting himself a goal of feeling better by the time April comes around when this dark cloud will no longer hover over him. Sonically, the soft production and Kessler’s falsetto feel like a comforting hug to help any listener going through something similar hold on just a little while longer. The build of the song crescendos into this gorgeous musical break after the third chorus that instantly brings chills to my arms with every listen. “I get nostalgic when the weather changes, Been dreaming strangers with your face and, Sometimes I think that I can’t face it, But changing seasons makes me shaken,” the track sets the tone perfectly for what’s to come in this project and still feels just as fresh as it did when it came out last January.

“April” by Ben Kessler

Next up is “Graffiti”, my personal favorite from the tracklist and a song that encapsulates that feeling of seeing the one you are in love with everywhere you go. It’s painful, it’s relatable and it’s a damn good song. “And I thought that I could run away, and I almost thought I would feel the same, now everybody has your face, And I’m chasing graffiti with your name, Yeah, I’d wait for you all night, Just to know that you’re alright,” he sings on the chorus. That feeling of running away from your source of pain as an act of distraction is universal- yet we all experience it in our own unique ways and are forced to reckon with the fact that no matter where we go, they will always follow us. Using his lover’s name in graffiti as a metaphor for the term “writing on the wall” which is usually used to describe an impending disaster, Ben expertly lets us in on his thought process when it comes to this particular relationship. Sonically, it feels almost dreamlike- the production on his vocals so smooth as he croons away over that haunting piano melody.

“Graffiti” by Ben Kessler

“Default” details the ways in which Ben sometimes feels as if he’s no longer human- as if he is nothing more than just some wiring and written code, doomed to be set in his ways for the rest of his time. He’s left to overthink everything that people say to him and about him and hopes that he can get back to his “default” settings, before life had become this trying. “Just rip all of my wires out, See how long it takes ’til I shut down, Twist me ’til the truth falls out, Don’t call me when you’re guilty now,” he wishes he could start again, free to be his true self and speak what’s on his mind instead of worrying how it will be perceived. I’m not always a fan of overly produced vocals but when used so perfectly in tracks like this and balanced by an impressive vocal performance, it works extremely well.

“Default” by Ben Kessler

On the next track “Just Like Me”, Ben explores the similarities between him and the one he loves and how he knows them so clearly because of their shared complexities. From the moment that chorus first hits, you can feel a rush of what can only be labeled “sonic euphoria”. It demands to be blasted in front of a crowd and sung back just as loud. “Everybody says you’re just like me, I know the shadows underneath your eyes, Could I fix your heart if I fix mine?, Baby, you’re really just like me,” it’s all about that beauty of not judging someone for whatever they are going through and instead, just seeing them clearly and loving them completely. It’s this topic of relativity that I feel like I’ve never heard portrayed so earnestly by an artist before this.

“Just Like Me” by Ben Kessler

Back in July, we featured the EP’s next track “I Could Do This All Night” in our Scalding Hot series so I’m not going to do a full coverage on it here but SPOILER ALERT, we absolutely loved it. The song continues to get better with each consecutive listen and the playful melodies implant themselves in my head for hours and hours afterwards, proving that Ben can in fact do this all night. Wow I hate myself for making that joke. Anyways….

“I Could Do This All Night” by Ben Kessler

The EP’s final track “Violet” is a stunning deep dive into Ben’s state of mind and how he approaches the idea of truly falling in love and being vulnerable with his partner. He approaches it quite hesitantly as a form of both self-preservation and the mere fact that he feels unworthy of their love. “My fingers are crossеd, One hand on your leg, Pretend for a minute, I know how to stay, I’m too scared of falling, I give less than I should, Just know that I love you, I’d love you if I could,” he confesses on the title track. The visual of him shutting his eyes so tightly that all he can see is violet when he finally opens them is so striking that it adds even more depth to the emotions behind this song as Ben lays it all on the line for his love.

“Violet” by Ben Kessler

Ending the project on this final note leaves a lot to the imagination as the track comes to a close on the line “I’d love you if I could“, which I found particularly haunting as I tried to resonate everything I had heard. In a way, it’s quite a poignant statement by the young singer who had previously felt like on earlier tracks that he needed to bite his tongue. This is a man that knows exactly who he is, even if he still doubts himself. He communicates his feelings and recognizes the traits that might be a bit toxic. The honesty and sense of self exploration featured throughout these 6 tracks is what makes music, and artists of this caliber so meaningful to this world.

The world needs more artists like Ben Kessler. Now go stream the hell out of this EP.

Violet is out now on all streaming platforms!