A record full of soulful sunshine pop and warm but subtle burrs of synthpop and crispy psychedelia.
Don’t let the title fool you, the new album from Benjamin Schoos is his most dazzlingly assured yet. Doubt In My Heart, the fourth studio album recorded under his own name, features a host of inspired collaborations unleashing nine gorgeous new songs that celebrate interconnectivity in times of trouble.
“This album was written at an emotionally complicated time in my life,” admits the Belgian musician. “It’s a bit like the mixtape of my heart at each moment along the way. It’s a really intimate album despite all of the guests making appearances on it.” And therein lies the beautiful paradox of Doubt In My Heart, an album of solitude made with a host of new musical friends from around the globe. Rather than licking his wounds, Schoos took a risk and reached out in the hope of finding some affinity in dark times, and received it back in abundance.
The songs on Doubt In My Heart therefore are emotionally intelligent, sexy, witty, touching and sometimes sad, but they are all infused with a warmth that only comes from human interaction. “My initial idea was that I wanted to play all of the instruments and improvise with myself,” he says. “It had been a long time since I’d played the drums or even the acoustic guitar on my records.” He began writing melodies and scribbling down lyrics in his notepad, but other unknown voices began to suggest themselves.
“I thought instinctively that the musical environment would lend itself to external collaborations to get me out of my cocoon. So I had the idea of replacing me with singers, which would be less stifling for me personally.” Schoos says it was important to take a back seat this time around: “Yeah, I really wanted to make a record that I could listen to myself,” he explains, “something that goes from the intimate to the universal. And my voice could not do justice to this project.”
Modesty aside, the record certainly feels luxuriantly free, full of soulful sunshine pop and warm but subtle burrs of synthpop and crispy psychedelia and a whole mixtape of different singers bringing varied interpretations and contributing their own ideas. Lead single “All Night Every Night” with the American singer songwriter Dent May which was released in May of last year is, according to Norman Records, packed with enough “sunshine to see you at least as far as Crimbo.” Follow up ‘Shoes’ is also like a warm bath, full of brilliantly evocative imagery and underpinned by sweet 70’s soul. Opener ‘The Traces of Our Thoughts’ with Marker Starling starts with the subtle pulse of an analogue drum machine and builds into a symphonic rock ballad full of minor key west coast harmonies.
Many of the other chansons are based around major 7th chords, but each arrives at a different illustrious destination standing out from its contemporaries. With players accrued from across the planet mostly via the medium of email, with sounding sessions done via Skype, the collaborators came together virtually, with most of the artists having never met the Seraing-born singer before. “It was magical, with everyone very involved in the recording, despite the distance,” he says. What’s more, while not having met, the universal themes of the heart were immediately relatable to all concerned. What they shared was a mutual admiration and a commonality through human experience.
As for those guests, the aforementioned Canadian singer Marker Starling, who Benjamin calls “one of the most talented songwriters of his generation”, appears on three songs including the title track. Fellow compatriots of Starling’s, Nicholas Krgovich and Drew Smith from Bunny, also provide vocals on excellent new tracks. The Brits Robert Soleto and Alex Gavaghan weave their magic as well. The album is rounded off with the ambient psyche of ‘I’m Disappearing’, featuring Kevin Coral of Future Children and some deliciously paced spidery drumming from Benjamin.
“One collaboration would lead to another,” says Schoos, “thanks to the interconnectivity of the world wide web”. He had initially been introduced to Sterling’s music by Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier, who he’d recorded another duet, ‘Je ne vois que vous’, with in 2013. Sterling in turn introduced him to Nicholas Krgovich and Bunny, both from the Tin Angel Records stable, a UK label with plenty of international acts.
It’s a record that grew organically and makes a strong case for cyberspace being a part of our reality now. Doubt In My Heart is an international pop record sung in its entirety in English that somehow manages to be personal and universal, selfanalysing and life-affirming, brooding and amusing, amiable and yet aloof, familiar and yet like nothing Schoos has attempted before. If he had any doubts in his heart that it might not work then Doubt In My Heart is a record of beautiful paradoxes that’s an unequivocal triumph.
Doubt in my Heart
1. Traces Of Our Thoughts. Feat. Marker Starling
2. Shoes. Feat. Nicholas Krgovich
3. Baby I’m In Love. Feat. Drew Smith (from Bunny)
4. All Night Every Night. Feat Dent May
5. Melody Souvenir. Feat. Alex Gavaghan
6. Doubt In My Heart. Feat. Marker Starling
7. Power To Amaze. Feat. Robert Sotelo
8. Catching In Passing. Feat. Marker Starling
9. I’m Disappearing (Syd). Feat. Future Children