Review Summary: Take some time, it'll all be worth it.
While Ben Frost's later works gained acclaim for how diverse and engaging they were, his earlier works were quite a contrast to this. I can imagine, despite it's beauty, this particular album has disappointed many of the artists fans who delved into Frost's back catalogue, because it exists at the opposite end of the spectrum to his most celebrated works. The artist later developed a penchant for mashing stacks of genres together, succeeding because each element drove towards the same end goal - however, here he opts to stubbornly dig his feet into one style with little semblance of purpose or direction. And yet, it works - hell, it's so effective that I wouldn't hesitate to call this my favorite Frost work.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what world SOEE
resides in. Despite a relatively straightforward structure, it doesn't really line up with associated genre constraints. Idle piano lines often loop and don't go anywhere specific, but in contrast to ambient meanderings, they provide invaluable grounding when the booming drums threaten to overwhelm the mix. Songs peak by becoming more and more abrasive, burying the pristine melodies in harsher noise while the volume knob slowly turns up. It can be very discomforting in places, but never enough to be considered grating, it simply conjures an atmosphere of unease. You never really know whether a song is going to trudge onwards or come crashing down around you, and this uncertainty acts to amplify the uneasy feelings tenfold.
This is exemplified in "Redline", the most diverse track to be found here. Calming vocals and an acoustic guitar lend an organic feeling missing elsewhere on the album, which makes it that bit more discomforting when everything natural is slowly drowned out by layers of mechanistic drums and electric guitar. Then, just as the track drops out and you think it's done, the drums rear their ugly head once more, crashing away until the song abruptly and messily exits. The eerie closing track "Slicing The Skin Between My Toes" develops painstakingly slowly, utilizing the drums to build up steam instead of acting as the focal point at climax (the methodology employed throughout the rest of the album). It's a very minor shift, but it's these minor shifts that lend replayability to the album, which is essential for an album as unassuming and delicate as this.
While he would go on to create monolithic albums like Theory Of Machines
, he never quite nailed the atmosphere that total stylistic consistency can provide. SOEE
is a fairly simple album by all comparisons, however by the same token, it's also that bit more affecting. As far as dark and brooding post-rock goes, this is about as good as it gets. It can seem flighty and thin on the surface, but taking the time to dive beneath that film reveals a depth that belies its appearance. Forging a full and consistently engaging album with such a limited palette is a feat in itself, but even without doling out brownie points for that, the album can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best pieces in Frost's stellar discography.