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Benjamin Cartel

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After earning a buzz as one of New York City’s up-and-coming songwriters, Benjamin Cartel put his solo career on hold in 2004, the year he co-founded the indie folk duo Kaiser Cartel. Years later, that band is still moving along... and Cartel’s solo career has earned a new set of wheels too, thanks to an EP that bridges the gap between Wilco’s wry rock & roll and John Lennon’s classic pop.
Money and Love is Cartel’s first solo release. Like the musical influences that spawned it, the EP is a mix of old and new. Several songs, like the vintage pop/rocker “No One,” were written before Kaiser Cartel’s formation. Others, like the rave-up title track, are newer compositions. “Julia,” one of the album’s harmony-drenched highlights, was written somewhere in the middle. Cartel looked everywhere for inspiration: relationships, the road, even old Alfred Hitchcock movies.
The recording process began at The End Studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with Mike Cohen (Lucinda Black Bear). Cartel recorded the songs simply, strumming an acoustic guitar while two friends chimed in on bass and lead guitar. He then sent the bare-boned recordings to his friend and occasional tour mate Kristoffer Ragnstam, an indie pop musician living in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ragnstam, along with his bandmate Joel Lundberg, added layers and arrangements to Cartel’s songs, turning what began as a skeletal EP into something more fleshed-out and eclectic.
“I let Kris and Joel add whatever they wanted,” Cartel says, “and didn't get in the way of their process. I felt good about the songs and my performance -- and as a fan of Kris’ band, Kristoffer and the Harbor Heads, I was honored that they wanted to contribute to my recordings.”
Some finishing touches were added several months later, when Ragnstam and Cartel rendezvoused in L.A. at New Monkey Studio (originally owned by Elliot Smith), and then later at the home of Aqualung’s Matt Hales, who’d previously worked with Cartel on the Kaiser Cartel albums March Forth and Secret Transit. Together, the musicians added handclaps, backing vocals and piano.
The result is a recording rooted in honest, straightforward songwriting -- the sort of singer/songwriter fare that Cartel regularly performs at his solo shows, with nothing more than an acoustic guitar to back him up -- and dressed up with full, genre-spanning arrangements. It’s an album that builds a bridge between opposites: between old and new, love and loss, rock and pop, solo songwriting and full-band recording.


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