Release date:
June 7, 2024
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Benzene means nothing and everything. The title of French Cassettes’ new album is not an allusion to the dangerous fossil fuel byproduct, nor is it a nod to the anti-anxiety drug Benzos. As a child, Scott Huerta’s birth name—Lorenzo—transformed into Wren, then Renzo. Before long, he was Renzo Benzo. By the age of four, the family had largely settled on Benz, which is what they still call him today. Benzene, Huerta’s own abstraction, was chosen on a whim. “I wish I had a better explanation,” he admits. “I guess I should have Googled it first.” The self-deprecation is classic Benz, as is this crossing of the wires between the flippant and the deeply meaningful. There’s a lot in a name, after all, and even more in a name that only those dearest to you call you by. This sort of understatement is all over Benzene (the album), in big ways and small ones. It’s one reason the San Francisco band’s third album holds up so well to repeated listens: It contains a world of references, quotes and handmade word-puzzles that only Huerta can fully unpack. Some of the band’s influences are apparent: The Magnetic Fields in the tight song construction and humor, The Beach Boys in the harmonies and experimentation. But Huerta’s lyrical aesthetic is his own, and Benzene is packed to the gills with funny, memorable one-liners (“I’m sick of bar banter, but attracted to the neon”) and punctuated by knife twists (“Sometimes you swear you barely know her”). Its themes never veer too far from separation: from partners you still want the best for; from family members who have died; from a person you’re trying hard not to be. Maybe letting go was an unavoidable subject. French Cassettes’ last album, Rolodex, was a painstaking six years in the making. Perfectionist tendencies, anxiety and grief all played roles in the delay. In 2019, though, the band signed with a new record label (Tender Loving Empire, which is also releasing Benzene) and prepared themselves for a release date and extensive touring—just as the reality of Covid set in. The band’s sophomore record would eventually drop in December of 2020, in the thick of lockdowns and uncertainty. The response, though, was heartening. Rolodex performed well and found its way into the ears of new fans, some of whom wrote the band to let them know how much the album’s harmony-fueled, tightly woven mix of bittersweet and upbeat affected them in a difficult time. When the band finally did tour, many of the shows were sold-out. “We didn’t know what to expect, exactly,” Huerta says. “But it was still incredibly surprising and touching.” Huerta was already working on the songs that would become Benzene during Rolodex’s release. He wrote and recorded songs in the bedroom while his then-girlfriend worked from home in the next room. “Sometimes I’d get a good take and then realize that the theme from Love Island was playing in the background,” Huerta says. His memories of this time are all positive, but the recording process would eventually outlast the romantic relationship. Huerta and French Cassettes cofounder Mackenzie Bunch, who started the band in High School back in Ripon, California before moving to San Francisco, brought the songs into Bunch’s Oakland studio in 2021. Determined to not spend another six years making Rolodex’s follow-up, the pair—with Bunch sharing guitar duties and playing bass alongside new drummer Rob Mills—let their proverbial hair down. “It’s supposed to be fun,” Huerta says. “And when your bandmates are as good as mine, it really is fun.” While the album still took three years from start to finish, Benzene does bear evidence of a French Cassettes that seems more comfortable taking risks and taking it easy. The intricate guitar work on “Medium Horny” is a holdover from the demo version, and that re-potting gives it a delicate, almost antique feel. “When You Know You Know” allo...

  • 1. Fast Held Hand
  • 2. Eyes Glazed Over
  • 3. Medium Horny
  • 4. Baseball Bat
  • 5. White Noise
  • 6. When You Know, You Know
  • 7. Megabus
  • 8. Normal Day
  • 9. Finally
  • 10. Up2You

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