Ben Priory is a talented young music producer and composer from the southern English coastal city of Portsmouth. Influenced by some of his favorite artists like twenty one pilots, Mike Shinoda and Only The Poets, he skillfully creates fascinating and compelling synthwave and synthpop songs having a level of maturity beyond his young age. Last June (2019), he released his stunning debut single “Here We Go”, a collaboration with fellow musician and singer/songwriter Charlie Pereira, both of whom were only 17 years old at the time. I reviewed the song and loved it so much it spent many weeks on my Top 30, and ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2019. He followed up that October with “If Only”, an enchanting and trippy song with trap and Middle Eastern elements, and featuring vocals by Michael Lacroix.
Now Ben returns with his first EP Solent Side, a concept work of sorts with songs inspired by his having grown up by the seaside. The sea around the city of Portsmouth is called “the Solent”, and Ben told me “Solent Side is about the connection with where you grew up, where you feel you belong.” Once again, he collaborated with several vocalists and musicians on the songs. The EP was mixed and mastered by Philip Marsden.
The first track “Night Shift” features captivating vocals by Belfast artist Crash Helmet Kid, who also played guitar. Starting with a throbbing synth bass groove, Ben layers all sorts of delicate and spacey atmospheric synths and sound textures to create a beautiful otherworldly soundscape for Crash Helmet Kid’s angelic, ethereal vocals. I could listen to this bewitching track again and again.
“Burning” is a marvelous piano-driven track that transitions back and forth between a languid, rather moody vibe and an exuberant head-bopping dance beat. Ben’s keyboards are wonderful, as is the guitar work by Ollie Lowres and Charlie Pereira. We also finally get to hear Ben sing here, and his vocals are terrific. The lyrics seem to be autobiographical, speaking to his own coming of age as a musician and wanting to explore the world beyond Portsmouth: “There are dreams in my head, I have visions. Dancing on the stage, people singing my songs. I lie awake at night, simply thinking. You lie there too, simply aching. And we’re burning. / There’s a wide, wide world waiting for you. So get yourself outside and go find it. And we’re burning.”
Ben takes a pensive turn with “Fluoride“, a lovely track about growing up and learning to accept responsibility for one’s actions, particularly with regard to how we treat one another (at least that’s my interpretation of their meaning). The poignant lyrics are beautifully sung by English singer/songwriter Elisia Carter, who conveys a vulnerable sense of resignation about her friend’s immaturity, yet remaining hopeful that he will learn to value and respect her: “Rolling downtown in your white Mini Cooper / Playing around in a drunken stupor / You wonder what’s it like, life on the other side. / Fluoride, fluoride, can you light up the night? Can you call me by my name?” I love the song’s mellow hip hip beat, jangly strummed guitar, gentle vocal harmonies in the chorus, and the sounds of falling rain throughout that give the track a somber vibe.
The final track is a remix of Ben’s prior single “If Only“. The original version had a strong trap beat, highlighted by a simple but mesmerizing piano riff, accompanied by otherworldly synths. The remix is shorter, and has a slowed-down trip hop beat, with harsher, more industrial-sounding synths and ominous piano keys that give this version a darker feel. In the original version, Michael Lacroix repeated the lines “I wanna follow my dreams / If only you let me”, but in the remix his vocals are electronically altered to the point of being an unintelligible chant that nevertheless resonates with the listener.
Solent Side is a wonderful little EP that provides further evidence of Ben Priory’s impressive songwriting and production talents. He’s an imaginative guy, and I love that he not only explores a variety of music styles and sounds, but also collaborates with lots of musicians in the creation of his songs. I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.