The Outsiderer

File Third Toga Party From the Sun under Outsider Music—not that I put any stock in that label; it's meaningless and stupid—but because I like Benbenek, and I want him to make it. And given music today, it's unlikely he'll be successful unless his name bumps up alongside the likes of Daniel Johnston, Gary Wilson and Jandek.

Benbenek (full name Kurt Benbenek) lives in Long Beach, where he recorded, produced, and released Toga on his own label/studio/company Houseplant Picture Studio. It's the kind of record you'd picture being recorded by an easy-going, laugh-it-all-off burnout, but in person Benbenek is politely nervous, his reserved and shaky demeanor making him all the more curious.

Prior to Toga, Benbenek, 39, had produced other bands (Britain's Magnesium Pie) and played guitar in the Shatners, a modestly successful Long Beach five-piece. Third Toga Party from the Sunis his first solo album. It's a strange 19 track pop opus, entirely and obviously home recorded, which works to his and the album's credit. Songs range from found-sound noise collages ("Dooded-Up 4 You," "The Wreck and Subsequent Repair of the Old 97") to spoken word ("With a Little Bit of Funk in Your Life") to what seems to be his forte: odd, sample-heavy, minimalist pop touching on subjects like Taco Bell, ex-bandmates, and Marshall McLuhan.

Togaisn't a "funny" record; instead, Benbenek attacks pop music by not taking himself seriously—yet not so far in any one direction as to come off obvious or amateurish. He describes the record as "a true-life science fiction tale concerning the dynamic tension between tragedy and comedy," which is maybe too grandiose of an assessment, but it's in the right place. Benbenek's service-with-a-smile songwriting gives listeners a chance to take in some seriously deep shit without a ton of effort on their part. It's not outsider music, it's good music.


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