‘These Two Windows’ successfully lights a match in the rain
Alec Benjamin’s album lives up to the promise of his first mixtape
These Two Windows
Warner Music Group
May 29, 2020
Alec Benjamin’s These Two Windows continues to build off his strengths as a storyteller while addressing a plethora of other topics. The album appears to be split into 4 chapters: mental health/relationship with self (songs 1–3), romantic relationships (songs 4–5), social commentary/relationship with society (songs 6–8), and platonic relationships (songs 9–10). Overall the album is very cohesive, with each song having Benjamin's trademark minimalist vocals and extremely well-written lyrics.
Here is a track-by-track take.
Mind Is a Prison
Joanna: This might be the most visual song on the album. The analogy of the mind being an inescapable prison, where one must confront endless thoughts, is very powerful. It’s a picture of his own OCD, but is widely applicable to any struggle with overthinking, anxiety, and depression. It’s also important to note that this is the song from which he pulls the album’s title, These Two Windows, a reference to his eyes being his windows to the outside world.
Wenbo: I loved the details in this track, tying up his “linen” with “five strips of ribbon” he found. The first instance of “found” in the chorus is an uplifting one, where he finally has control over his mind. Meanwhile, the second instance shows how little control Alec truly feels he has over his mental state. This song sets up a lot of the themes that run throughout the album as a whole, which is collectively a retelling of Alec’s life experiences of dealing with pressures from his family, peers, and society, all the while being trapped in his “prison.”
Joanna: I didn’t think this song was particularly compelling, lyrically. The concept of a person having “demons” is not new, and Imagine Dragons’ song is probably going to last longer in our collective musical memory.
Wenbo: While I agree with Joanna that the song is not as lyrically compelling as many of the other tracks, I loved Alec’s use of his vocal range, which I found to be quite beautiful. The emotional connection Alec shows toward this particular person based off of a shared secret of the “demons” he sings about is something many can surely relate to. Additionally, the concept of forgiveness is first introduced in this song, which is a theme that reverberates in many other tracks, including the album closer.
Oh My God
Joanna: I related to the line, “Oh my God, I don’t remember/Who I was just last December” very much, and I see the song as an anthem for personal growth. I was a very different person in December, going through a break-up in January and then the ensuing world madness. However, the song actually explores the idea of becoming a cog in the Hollywood machine and the subsequent existential crisis. The synth vibes during the chorus really highlight the angst of being lost in the world.
Wenbo: I love the reverb in the chorus. Many of the themes about becoming famous and feeling like you’re changing to the point where you don’t even recognize yourself are interesting ones, especially given that the album title literally references seeing things through his eyes. Alec is a powerful storyteller. His singing on this track made me wistful for many good ol’ days that I never even personally lived.
The Book of You & I
Joanna: This song screams cliche. The line “Don’t tell me that it’s over/The book of you and I” might as well be quoting “The Story of Us” by Taylor Swift. The acoustic guitar was a nice touch and makes the song more intimate, though.
Wenbo: I’d have to agree with Joanna on this one. I can envision the song being nice for playing over some chill, mindless chores, but for a song that’s meant to be about a relationship that did not go as planned, it hits surprisingly little. He says he wrote this song in 40 minutes. Unfortunately, in this case, the track could’ve used more time or been scrapped altogether.
Match in the Rain
Joanna: Another simile in action! In this case, trying to save his relationship is working as well as “trying to light a match in the rain.” I really liked the production of this track, especially the beat, which features prominently both at the very beginning and the very end. The rap, I think he could do without, or upgrade to have more than one rhyme and five syllable lines.
Wenbo: I just see Alec dancing in a darkened, roofless hallway as the rain comes pouring in. The verses have simple, stripped-down production, and the beat even falls away for a little bit at the start of the chorus. However, when it returns, it returns with a vengeance (in the best way possible). If there were any track on this record with spoken lines, it does not surprise me at all that it’s this one.
Jesus in L.A.
Joanna: Alec has repeatedly said that he likes to use religious allusions, but his songs are not meant to be religious, which applies both to this song and “Steve.” This song discusses his internal conflict from moving to Los Angeles, a city known to steal people’s souls.
Wenbo: I found this song and “Oh My God” to be quite interestingly linked thematically, given that both reference religious figures in the title, express regret for moving to California, and are not truly about religion at all. Though I don’t quite understand the placement of this song theme-wise in the album, it’s a gem for sure.
I’m Not a Cynic
Joanna: This song is a stark look into the mirror. He claims that he isn’t a pessimist, so I will refrain from calling him one. However, I do think the clear message is that people do not have to be happy all the time.
Wenbo: I love the line “I swear I’m not a cynic/My glass just has no water in it.” There have been times where people have asked me “What’s wrong?” when I’ve had a bad day or even an uneventful one, and frankly, I frequently struggle to pinpoint exactly what. It’s often not a matter of viewing the glass as half-empty or half-full, but a simple acknowledgement that it’s okay to not be okay and there will be happier days to come.
Joanna: This song uses a light instrumentation to treat a heavy subject. The drums and claps give the song a distinctly spring-break sound, but the allusion to the Alamo refers to a battle against an undefeatable opponent yet still holding out to the very end. A very important line for current events is, “You can tell me that it’s treasonous to stand and rebel/I won’t pledge you my allegiance, I’ll just bid you farewell.”
Wenbo: As a Texan whose entire fourth grade history curriculum was about the Alamo and Santa Anna, I screamed. The simple guitar in parts of the song draws attention to the verses, which in many ways are a powerful war cry that Alec will not give up his personal stance on anything he believes in despite the naysayers or being outnumbered. He knows what he stands for is right on his own terms. Also, count on Alec to use “proselytize” in a pop song.
Must Have Been the Wind
Joanna: My number one single that has come out of the album. The narrative comes through so clearly with a minimalistic guitar accompaniment and Alec’s trademark voice. It’s intimate, like hearing a story from a friend about their weekend. A neighbor, concerned about violence in the apartment above his, goes to ask the girl who lives there if she’s okay. She responds with, “It must have been the wind.” The inversion in the last chorus, “We can talk about the noise when you’re ready, but ‘til then/I’ll say, ‘It must have been the wind’,” is particularly powerful, because he acknowledges that she may not want to reveal the truth and supports her anyways.
Wenbo: This song serves as a reminder of why Alec stands his ground as an artist in the first place: his ability to use imagery to convey a message that he doesn’t explicitly say. Domestic abuse is devastating for the victims, but can leave them unable to speak out. Alec conveys this in one powerful line: “Sweater zipped up to her chin.” The line indicates that the girl is hiding her scars underneath her clothes, but the line itself is easy to miss in the chorus, which is perhaps deliberate seeing that many signs of domestic abuse are not easily visible to outsiders.
Just Like You
Joanna: This song is so cute! Alec talks about his tumultuous relationship with his father as a teen and as an adult, which harkens back to “If We Have Each Other,” a song he wrote for his sister. I expect his unreleased song about his mother, “My Mother’s Eyes,” in the next release.
Wenbo: This is the perfect album closer, as it draws the curtain over many of the issues Alec discusses by showing him ultimately going back to his family, in this case, his father, for support. He looks upon the past (the experiences detailed in this album) while leaving listeners with something to look to in the future (with references to his self-described future in this song).
Alec is a talented songwriter who has grown from his debut mixtape Narrated For You. He continues to make meaningful connections between mundane symbols or images and heaping servings of the struggles in daily life. We are excited to see where he takes his talents next, and cannot wait to see his musical evolution.