Benni Hemm Hemm: Benni Hemm Hemm
Morr Music/Sound of a Handshake

Just as she did to Abba's "Waterloo," I can easily visualize my long-dead grandmother bopping her head to Benni Hemm Hemm—not, frankly, the most promising sign for an artist when your music's biggest fan is an octogenarian. Though well-intentioned, the ‘big band folk' pieces (or ‘Balkan-Folk' as it's described) on Benni Hemm Hemm's (26-year-old Icelander Benedikt H. Hermannsson) eponymous debut are just a tad too twee. The BHH sound is typically huge, with Hermannsson's voice and acoustic guitar occupying the center of a boisterous seventeen-member outfit. Consequently songs like “BeginningEnd” and “Beygja Og Beygja” explode with robust energy, an exuberant brass section responsible for much of it. Still, notwithstanding a few decent moments (“The Doomed The Damned” alternates lovely vocal harmonies and counterpoint with a graceful horn chorale, and the laid-back campfire waltz “Fight” is tolerable), the material often grates.

Lyrics are a major reason: “I Can Love You In A Wheelchair Baby” is especially cringe-inducing (“I can love you in a wheelchair baby / I can love you any way you want / I can love you anywhere you want me to / I can do it anytime”) and the Hawaiian-flavoured “Ku-Ui-Po” doesn't fare much better ( “I love you / More today than yesterday / But I love you less today / Than I will tomorrow”). Some songs (e.g., “Til Eru Fr”) are sung in Hermannsson's native tongue, making it difficult to determine if the lyrical quality is the same, better, or worse (one guesses the same). The album clearly has supporters (it received a Best Album award at an Icelandic Music Awards presentation and Benni Hemm Hemm and his band were elected as Best Newcomer) but Benni Hemm Hemm doesn't strike this listener at least as one of Morr Music's peak moments.

September 2006