Ben Watt, an accomplished writer, DJ, BBC radio personality, and musician, gives a peak songwriting performance on Hendra.
Hendra begins with its self-titled track. Acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, background strings and a reverberated picked electric guitar part create a dim and somber feeling. Lyrics go, “I wish I’d studied harder now, made something of myself / But instead I’m just a shopkeeper, but I mustn’t blame myself.” Lyrics and instrumentation together tell a story that is greater than the sum of parts. Watt takes a simple song to its fullest potential.
The album continues on with “Spring,” an optimistic track suggesting a silver lining. However, the lyric, “This is really happening / You can rest in bed / Let these silver moments fall on your head,” shows a reluctance to acknowledge the newly-found positive. Watt goes on to sing, “Say goodbye to Winter, that keeps you locked inside.” Taken as a metaphor, Watt is saying that the confines that “keep you locked inside” can be over as soon as you realize it. That is, we can learn to be happy if we only learn to change our perspective. A strong pop-orientated piano part and upbeat drumbeat again match the emotion of the words wonderfully.
But Wattsoon comes back around to the not-so-happy subject matter. “Levels” is a slow-tempo track with ambient slide guitar and a vocal melody doubled by another guitar. Lyrics go “And out there is the future / But what’s this standing in my way,” followed by “Some nights I’m out there on the levels / And the ditches and the fields are flooded by the rivers / And I can see for miles.” Watt is talking about trying to move forward. “Everyone has wounds that heal with time / And I’ll get over mine,” he sings. When the suffering subsides, we can see farther.
Finishing off the album, “Heart is a Mirror” is a loose groove with vocals and synth taking the melody. Just as with previous tracks, the story is key. Watt presents a man who has lost his job, and eventually, because of his feelings of inadequacy, becomes frustrated with his now-breadwinning wife. Once again, Watt plays to the power of subjective well-being when he sings, “Most of the stuff is just happening in your own head.” The chorus then comes in with “The heart is a mirror where it’s easy just to see yourself.” This tendency to put yourself first and others in the periphery creates great misunderstanding and grave narrow-mindedness.
Hendra is not to be taken at face value. Like any great piece of artwork, it deserves a little poking and prodding. Watt’s work is thoughtful and well constructed. Multidimensional storytelling emerges after tracks are carefully listened to a few times over. Hendra is not just mindless music, it is an integrated piece of artwork. Watt combines deep words with excellent instrumental arranging, and Hendra only gets better with more listens.