Still surfing the waves of success from her 2020 hit “Supalonely” and album Hey u x, Stella Rose Bennett, also known as pop star Benee, has a brand new project — one bound to leave fans breathless. Lychee is dreamy and diverse, flowing seamlessly from upbeat, bubbly pop to dark, lo-fi trap. Her unique synthetic sound pulses through the EP’s wavelengths with every twist and turn.
“This music was inspired by the thoughts that are always jangling around my brain,” the 22-year-old New Zealand singer wrote in a letter addressed to her listeners, the descriptor “jangling” perfectly encapsulating the stimulating flow of Lychee. The record kicks off with the light, airy “Beach Boy,” a playful summer song rife with nostalgia that manages to be both subdued and peppy. The catchy drum loop propels the song forward while her mellow vocals reel the audience in, offering an escape into another, more whimsical world for three mesmerizing minutes.
Benee refers to the opening track as an “LA summer fantasy,” setting the tone for the rest of the album, which unfolds from the spunky sunshine of “Beach Boy” and delves into the seductive with “Soft Side.” Co-written by Kenny Beats, whose past collaborations include artists such as Dominic Fike and Vince Staples, this song is a glimpse not into Benee’s “Soft Side” but into her darker, trappier persona. However, her familiar lo-fi softness is not lost to the intense drum loops and synthetic vocals usually found in the trap soundscape; instead, Benee breaks down genres altogether.
She refashions conventions throughout the album, overlaying mellowness with pulsing electricity. Cohesion is an area in which Benee excels; despite the variety of genres she dips her toes into, the singer infuses every song on Lychee with a similar serene, dreamy quality unique to her own voice.
These dreamy undertones pair well with glimpses of emotional vulnerability featured in confessional songs such as “Hurt You, Gus” and “Doesn’t Matter.” The latter track particularly stands out as Benee candidly opens up about her struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder, wondering “What’s it like/ To not have to think about it?” Her delicate, gentle crooning matches the vulnerability in facing her fears, further echoed in the song’s title as she meditates on her insecurities about others’ perceptions.
Though often disguised by autotune, Benee’s voice is throaty and magnetic, with an underlying attitude that compels her audience to listen. This is especially prominent on tracks such as “Marry Myself,” a light, funky beat with vocals that lend a more serious tone to an otherwise fun, fluffy song. If the album has any weak areas, they lie in the lyrics, which are at times lackluster and border on vapid — but quickly forgiven by her quirky production.
This production is at its strongest in the record’s seventh and final song, “Make You Sick,” a dazzling feat of experimental, electronic sound that spans nearly seven minutes — the auditory equivalent of a vibrant and colorful light show. Originally composed for a fashion show, the song’s repeated refrain “I’m a bad bitch” kindles a flame of confidence that belongs on a runway; indeed, it is not difficult to picture a selection of models adorned in high fashion’s artful insanity strutting to the track’s eccentric maximalist beat. An instant standout track on the album, “Make You Sick” is the perfect grand finale, closing not with just a single bang but rather with synthetic musical fireworks.
Commonly grown in subtropical areas, lychee is a small round fruit with a sweet scented interior, a large pit and thin, coarse skin. Benee’s record touches on all aspects of the fruit — its tender sweetness, heady intimacy and imperfect vulnerability, all working together to create an enticing collection bursting with fresh, unique flavor.