For Benjamin Pena (AKA Producer Snafu), creating music is a very serious endeavor. There are apparently no ifs, ands, or buts about making music. He states on his Bandcamp page: “Suicide would be the only other thing I can think of if I wasn’t able to make music” Fortunately, Benjamin doesn’t much feel like dying and he’s opted to create music for all of us to hear and hopefully love. Creating music since around the turn of the century, he primarily uses Fruity Loops software to fashion tunes that mostly fall somewhere within the IDM / Drill n Bass / Breakcore spectrum of sound.
On “Songs of Sorrow“ (released by Automation Records, which has also released albums by Cex and Uglyhead) Producer Snafu takes the listener into familiar breakcore territory while also infusing modern classical orchestrations via computer programming. Numerous electronic musicians have walked these streets before, experimenting with the marriage of digital beats and traditional instrumentation like piano, stringed instruments, and brass – take the impressive ‘Rossz Csillag Alatt Született’ by Venetian Snares or some sections on Drukqs’ by Aphex Twin, for example – but I see no reason why musicians like Producer Snafu shouldn’t also take a stab at it if he feels inspired to do so.
A collection of songs created between 2006-2009, “Songs of Sorrow” presents us with the results of Pena’s musical undertakings. The results are mixed, but I feel the songs are put forth as honest explorations and not a vain attempt to emulate the elite of the genre. Indeed, honesty plays a large role in “Songs of Sorrow.” One can clearly see how Pena wears his heart on his sleeve with song titles such as ‘Regrets of Dispair,’ ‘I hope She appreciates the Time, Effort and Emotion I put into this Song,’ and ‘Anxious.’ Now, to some, those titles might seem like he’s laying it on a little thick in the emotional drama department, but this is apparently real life for Benjamin. He’s not pretending, sugarcoating, or hiding his personal pain (whatever that might actually be). When you read in the liner notes that the material here is “just a few of many songs of sorrow, and my cries for help” you realize it’s not a joke and that the creation of this particular album has literally kept the blade from his wrists.
The heaviness of the creator’s suicidal thoughts and other emotional burdens aside, the actual music here is full of varying successes and missteps. Brief opener ‘A Song of Sorrow’ gives the listener a taste of some of the basic piano flavors the album has to offer before sliding headfirst into ‘Human Drama,’ a hard-hitting track that shows Producer Snafu blending powerful breakcore with modern classical, skillfully weaving the two styles together in a perfect synergy throughout the song’s duration. That strength and artistry displayed on the first track continues on for the next third of the album as he works with slight variations on the theme set by the first song. The songs that follow ‘Human Drama’ – ‘The Journey,’ ‘No Ifs Ands Or Buts’ and ‘Mayday Mayday’ – develop into unique anthemic arrangements of their own, even putting forth some highly catchy earworms of melody.
From ‘Mayday Mayday’ on, the rest of the album heads into predominantly beatless territory, leaving the heavy breakcore sensibilities behind and shifting the focus to an almost total modern classical approach. I can applaud Producer Snafu for making such a drastic choice, as I am more than certain he knew that he might alienate some listeners looking for something more energetically moving while expressing a different side of himself. However, it’s a brave choice that works better in the creator’s mind than it does in reality. It’s always nice to have a quiet moment to reflect, pause, and breathe after the insanity of the first few songs, but that pause continues on for way too long, overstaying its welcome for more than half of the album. That being said, there is something beautifully honest and fragile about these piano ballads and Pena should rightfully be proud. When taken individually, they are lovely and morose creations, but with too few mood and tempo changes between them, there’s not much to distinguish one song from another. When taken collectively, each one passes by in an indistinct sad haze, keeping the album locked in a stagnant pool of melancholy and sorrow.
The style fortunately shifts back to what was experienced in the beginning of the album when we eventually reach the second-to-last song, but the atmosphere is one of cheer and hopefulness as opposed to sorrow. ‘ =) ’ starts off with a slow harmonium/organ drone that makes way for light piano tinklings before it introduces a confident IDM rhythm that intertwines itself with the piano and orchestration. This song has a proud and triumphant feel, like one of warm sun finally shining through the dark clouds after a too long winter, and it would have been perfect to end the album on such an inspiring note, considering all the bleakness that came before it. Unfortunately, Pena chooses to deviate once again into sluggish ballad territory and the entire album ends on a regrettably flat note.
“Songs of Sorrow” works in certain spots (mostly the beginning) but fails in others (the majority of the second half). It would have worked so much better had Pena chosen to release it as an EP rather than a full-length album, with him looking more critically at his music by taking the beat-oriented songs and only the strongest of ballads to create an album that has consistent flow from start to finish. If that had been the case, “Songs of Sorrow” would have been more noteworthy, advancing closer to the acumen of his more acknowledged peers. Instead, it is lopsided and awkward due to being overloaded with too much listless material. Taken as it is, it feels unbalanced and tiresome, much the way one might feel if they were struggling to deal with feelings of depression or sorrow, wishing for more joy and happiness in their life but not knowing how to cultivate it.
01) A Song of Sorrow
02) Human Drama
03) The Journey
04) Regrets of Dispair
05) No Ifs Ands Or Buts
06) Mayday Mayday
07) That Huge Grey Cloud Over My Heart
08) The Sound Of Empty Arms And A Lonely Heart
09) Yesterday’s Melody
10) why did you stop
11) Heartache Balled 6
12) I Hope She Appreciates The Time, Effort And Emotion I Put Into This Song
14) Pianio 2
16) Happiness Never Lasts As Long As It’s Supposed