Modern Inventors Are Something Fresh

Words by Keanan Barbour-March | Photos by Alicia Brown

Modern Inventors are something fresh and real. Just give “Goodbye North Brook Drive” a listen and you’ll grab what I mean. I sat down with Josh Benus and Matt Kass, Modern Inventor’s two leads, after their show in early August at XPN.

What strikes me as different with these artists – and not saying other artists don’t – is that Josh and Matt take full pride in all aspects of production of their music, from writing, arranging, to producing and mastering.  When you’ve got a musician in the booth and the mixing room and every step along the way, the music just has this extra kick, an extra oomph of style and caress, pulling you in. And they’ve got that connection between them, and with the other musicians in the group, of a band that’s been together for quite some time – yet they’ve been around for much less than a year.

Photo courtesy Alicia Brown.

Regardless of being self taught or professional training,  what I love most about the opportunity to do show and album reviews is to have those musical discussions and debates and conversations with the people creating such great music, and these two float to the top of the conversations I’ve had.

You can hear elements of The Brakes (Matt) and the voices and musicality similar to the Traveling Wilburys and Alexi Murdoch.  Adding musicality borrowed from fingerpicked guitars to the tight experimental drumming of Matt Scarano (also of Philly’s Son Step) to bass hooks from jazz and funk and some layers of Keys, Modern Inventors really pull dynamics from around the world of music to provide a breath of fresh air. But what I couldn’t put my finger on during the show was Josh’s great voice, and hinting similarities to that of Jackson Browne’s melodic swoons in “Looking East” – someone he said I wasn’t the first to draw similarities to.

Both bring their professional love to the Philly music scene, which is great to see and hear some artists putting out this type of music talk about what bar down the street they’re meeting up at afterward, with some old friends and new ones from the crowd. Coming from NYC, “It’s culture shock,” Josh said, “but I’ve really come to love this city. Being ‘knocked down’ by the music industry, the pair really wanted to work hard and be completely devoted to this new project. They’ve networked and ‘ensembled’ a network of musician over the last year, and much from the World Café group of people, providing an impressive background spread giving you a great show and music quality.

Modern Inventor’s tight sound on stage reminds me of a group with the ebb and flow of a seasoned touring band. “Yeah, we definitely work songs and arrangements out but not in rehearsal.  Before we get out there and put it out for people to listen to, we go for the writing, engineering producing, finding that sound that we’re envisioning” they said.  “We find that good idea – and put together, together.” They come from some similar place musically, and don’t need to bring more together to “make” it.

And you can hear it throughout their music, with multiple key changes and beautiful harmonics in the contemplative “Anna” to the driving rhythms in “Goodbye North Brook Drive” and the welcoming almost poppy “Hello”. How would you describe it, I asked? “Jazz

Photo courtesy Alicia Brown.

sensibility but not esoteric,” they replied. And I’d fully comply. You’ll be drawn into the music and even without a musical background, you’ll pick out those nuances that they work into every piece they write.

With less than 20 shows under their belt, they’ve got what it takes, and seating attention from all the right places. They attribute much of their traction to John (The Key) and Helen (XPN), but attention is coming from more than just the local scene, too. In two days they cranked out a tribute to Paul McCartney with a cover of his own “Every Night”, and got attention back from him – talk about validation.  Pretty sweet rendition – be sure to give it a listen below.

We can look for their Trains and Aeroplanes by 2013, with Philadelphia and New York City release and promotion.  Seek them out here in Philly or in the Mid Atlantic.