The making of To Carry A Whale was literally a journey in itself being recorded in Tottenham, Southend (in Sam Duckworth’s (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly) studio) and Niagara. More poignantly, To Carry A Whale is an emotional and spiritual journey as Leftwich summarises, “It’s an observation on what it’s like to be a sober alcoholic addict a couple of years in,” says Leftwich. “A whale is heavy to carry. It’s gonna hurt you to carry it. But it’s also beautiful, and it’s a miracle to be able to carry all that at all.” To Carry A Whale is the first LP Benjamin’s has written and recorded being “entirely sober”.
Opening track “Cherry in Tacoma” gets straight into the crux of this LP’s theme with the following lyrics “I flew all the way out to Tacoma to tell you that I’d die to get to know ya, but the signal died, and I ended up sober”. The emotive prowess induced is maximised with the acoustic guitar introduction and light, soothing quiescent organ in the background enabling the listener to bear witness to a spiritual healing process. From spiritual healing, Leftwich goes into a back-to-basic stripped-down acoustic confessional with “Oh My God Please”, where the artist pleads with God to “Let me come back in one piece once more” on a piecemeal road to recovery.
The other acoustic stripped back songs on To Carry A Whale include “Every Time I See a Bird”, with has soft piano and even milder EDM elements to it producing a Sunday morning music soundscape The Antlers produced on their Green to Gold LP, creating a pleasant, dreamlike protective bubble effect. The penultimate track, “To Talk To You Now”, unexpectedly delights with Wurlitzer sounds, Simon and Garfunkel inspired acoustic guitar riffs and soft melancholy quiescent strings.
As on Leftwich’s previous offering, Gratitude, there is experimentation. On Gratitude, some of the innovations were not instantly easy to digest, but this time around, Benjamin makes it much easier for the listener to see how the new roads taken synchronise with his core acoustic guitar-led sound. For example, “Wide Eyed Wandering Child” has a noughties mainstream RnB pop fused drum beat. This union works unexpectedly well, and the emotive value is not retracted when Benjamin sings “Little Bit of Cocaine and You’re Ok”. Whilst “Sydney 2013” will indirectly remind the listener of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”, the overriding penetrating theme is the stripped back country and blues folksy feel with genteel synth drums as Benjamin sings “like got heavy I got carried away”, which continues the theme of this difficult and open journey Leftwich has chosen to undertake.
Whilst Leftwich seldom undertakes vocal key changes, his voice has heartfelt clarity and superb diction. Time signature changes are also rare but are surplus to requirements on To Carry A Whale. What Leftwich has mastered is how to add new elements to his sound subtly. This LP contains brass, strings and EDM elements. One is struck by them not for the element of surprise, volume or tenacity, but rather for how they incrementally convey the emotions and journey Benjamin has been undertaking whilst remaining understated and discreet.
Having lost his father in his early twenties to lung cancer, battling alcoholism, and the other challenges Leftwich discusses on this LP, Benjamin, who is still thirty-one, has experienced considerable turmoil. To quote the concluding lyric from the short, sharp and ultimate track “Full Full Colour,” Leftwich to date has truly lived “a full-colour life”. One genuinely hopes that Benjamin’s musical progress and ongoing recovery can continue with less pain and suffering.