Benee released her debut EP after revealing the new spelling of her moniker, now with an added "e" to presumably avoid pronunciation woes. (I'll never forget my friend Rosie telling me, mortified, that she'd sustained an entire conversation with the singer's mother at Laneway pronouncing it "Bean"). It was a timely change; it feels as though the Auckland singer is declaring her artistic identity, just as she releases a mature, fully-formed EP that pounds with potent, self-assured lyrics and exceptional pop hooks.
Fire on Marzz is a funky, sun-soaked record that opens with Benee's early earworm Soaked, still as ingenious a pop song as ever. Glitter follows, a joyous track that swells and shines like an adolescent crush. Djeisan Suskov's twangy guitars gleam as bright as the title suggests, as Benee simply asks someone to hang out with her: "Let's just make it our own party/ Stick together like glitter."
Wishful Thinking is an absolute highlight; a dizzy, down-tempo stomper that nails the same energy as Snail Mail's Heat Wave, with Benee lazing around with nothing to do but mourn a crush cut short. Producer Josh Fountain's grimy synths and buoyant beat give the track an irresistibly cool sway, and I haven't stopped thinking about Benee's incredible post-chorus hook, which she delivers in perfect falsetto: "Everything you said/ Makes sense to me right now/ You were just straight scared/ afraid it might work out." You'll have that bouncing around in your head for days.
But it's on the EP's closing track, Want U Back, where Benee has created something truly extraordinary. Until then, Fire on Marzz exudes cool, with Benee's charming smirk almost audible throughout each song. But on Want U Back, she drops her guard and delivers a song of stunning emotional vulnerability. It's her Writer in the Dark – candid, exposed and unforgettable. "Tell me that I'm all that you need," she pleads; "you're pushing me round." As her smooth vocal lingers on "round," every lost love, every missed opportunity, every defeat you've ever felt will come flooding back.
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This track – and Fire on Marzz as a whole – proves Soaked was no fluke; Benee is a wise and perceptive songwriter with the pipes to match. She's able to flex her versatility across just six songs, and displays a crafty ability to think of her art outside the boundaries of its own format. With Fire on Marzz, Benee is here to set New Zealand pop music ablaze.
Benee, Fire on Marzz
Album: Fire on Marzz
Label: Republic Records
Verdict: Kiwi singer follows up on early promise with six tracks of irresistable funk-pop.