Benjamin Francis Leftwich – ‘Gratitude’ review

This quietly experimental third album sees the York-born singer-songwriter explore a personal reckoning over hushed beats and woozy folktronica

Pitched as a sort-of British Bon Iver, York’s Benjamin Francis Leftwich makes ethereal acoustic-led contemporary folk music that lays synth melodies and even the occasional dapple of vocoder over his finger-picked ditties. This third record, following a set of reimagined versions of beloved indie songs (Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ and The Killers’ ‘When You Were Young’ among them), deals with personal reckonings as he’s sought sobriety.

READ MORE: Benjamin Francis Leftwich talks new album ‘Gratitude’, overcoming personal struggles and working with Dirty Hit

“The moonlight made me a liar / And the sunlight made me strong”, he whispers on album highlight ‘Luzern’, a beat-led track that showcases his ability to layer textures and sounds for emotional resonance. “Look at all the wasted nights”, he sighs, guitar weaving through expansive synth, giving the sentiment a more devastating emotional impact than it perhaps deserves. ‘I Got You’ adds staccato piano into the mix, the stumbling notes reflecting the turmoil within. These tracks ache with regret, even when Leftwich recalls fond memories: “You burst into my kitchen and you made yourself at home.., I trust you / I been waiting for a while.”

Even more heartbreakingly, on the same track, he admits to getting in his own way: “I am so sorry about the height of the walls that I have been building”. Elsewhere, over ‘Look Ma!’, the album’s latest single and the first song he wrote after getting sober, he loops an operatic vocal over his fractured piano and guitar, before a thumping beat kicks in. It’s a quietly bold experiment – and not an entirely successful one, but a track that shows that, three albums in, Leftwich continues to find new sonic territory. ‘Real Friends’ is a more fruitful experiment, combining woozy, lop-sided hip-hop production and snippets of sampled, overlapping vocals.

Dirty Hit labelmate The Japanese House’s own take on airy, confessional folktronica may be in danger of overshadowing Leftwich, but ‘Gratitude’ shows that he’s a musician who, almost a decade into his career, still has much to say – and a great deal to work out on record. “Clarity finally is coming to me,” he sings at the end of the album, and you won’t disbelieve him.

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