The Best Album of 2015 By a Non-Musician (Or Funniest, at Least)
You may not know who Jon Benjamin is, but you definitely know his voice. One of the most famous voice actors in the business today, Benjamin's vocal range isn't that of a Billy West, but his distinctive deadpan is so hilarious that he'll probably be able to coast on it for the rest of his career.
Many first heard him as Coach McGuirk on Home Movies. Since then, Benjamin has transitioned to much more famous roles as Sterling Archer on Archer, Bob Belcher on Bob's Burgers, and his own short-lived live action show, Jon Benjamin Has a Van.
The next phase of his career is apparently jazz. Well, I Should Have..., released by Sub Pop, is Benjamin's musical debut. That would be because Benjamin is not a musician. Calling himself a “Jazz Daredevil,” Benjamin readily admits that he does not actually play piano.
In the video accompanying the album's announcement, Benjamin explained that because he doesn't play jazz, nor does he actually like jazz, he thought it would be funny to make a jazz album. Musicians in the video who played on the record express bewilderment over the very existence of the record, and the reasoning behind it. And these guys played on it.
It would be easy to buy Well, I Should Have... as a straight comedy record when you first start it. The first track, “Deal with the Devil,” is a hilarious skit wherein Benjamin attempts to sell his soul to the Devil, voiced by Aziz Ansari, for the ability to play the piano, and finds out that selling your soul isn't as easy as everyone makes it sound.
But then the straight comedy stops. After that, it literally becomes just Benjamin playing piano poorly over stock jazz vamps performed by saxophonist Scott Kreitzer, bassist David Finck and drummer Jonathan Peretz. The “joke,” then, is just how much you buy into the concept.
Luckily, the concept itself is hysterical, as are the many pompous, grandiose liner notes written by Benjamin. Writes Benjamin, “I am just one wave forming one curl, crashing once onto some remote beach somewhere in time. And that wave makes a small imperceptible change in the slope of the sand, upon which at some point in time a baby turtle will walk across, leaving his trail for just an instant, before the tide washes it clean.”
But what really gets me about the record, and makes it all the more funny, is that Benjamin's bad piano playing actually somehow seems to fit perfectly into the music. It's the perfect prank on so many levels. Benjamin has a laugh on music listeners, his own fans who would buy this garbage, and jazz itself, of which he is not actually a fan.
But play it for anyone who pretentiously claims to love jazz, yet lacks any intrinsic understanding of it, and you could fool them into thinking this was an unearthed record by one of Benjamin's proclaimed “influences”: Miles Davis, Max Roach, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. It's such a perfectly shitty pastiche of old-school jazz that it can stand alongside that Red Hot Chili Peppers parody that was so dead-on, many thought it was real.
Of course, outside of that, the record has little replay value. That's all right, because its very existence is an elaborate practical joke. If it was actually any good, that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?
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