Ben Frost
The Centre Cannot Hold


4.0
excellent

Review

by Eames USER (3 Reviews)
December 2nd, 2017 | 18 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Anxiety in an audible form

Centre is a weird beast, a product of two contrasting styles. Ben Frost specializes in electronic sounds of unknown origin while Steve Albini, the pope of analog church, is famous for making things appear real, live and raw. These concepts seem incompatible at first thought but it works, surprisingly. Considering Frost’s adoration for Swans (“We love you, Michael Gira”, from Theory Of Machines), the distance from them to Albini is not a long one.

In terms of aesthetic, the first comparison that comes to mind is Ultra by Depeche Mode. Made 20 years ago at the end tail of grunge era, it also combined two different elements: DM’s electronics and analog amps to give warm, crunchy sound with slight distortions and imperfections. Knowing that Albini produced the swan (…) song of grunge – Nirvana’s In Utero, the parallels draw themselves. But Albini wasn’t involved with Ultra and Centre isn’t about vintage warmth. Instead, there’s your usual Frost’s bright tremolo synths and deep kicks but they’re surrounded in a deliberate reverb. The sounds themselves are clearly synthetic but they appear tangible, as if emanating from a real environment. Not a simple room effect, there’s a pulsating liveliness. Masterful stereo separations and reflections sell the effect of things happening directly around you. It’s indescribable, better just experienced with headphones on and lights off.

Compositionally, Centre is somewhere in the middle between Theory Of Machines freeform ambient and AURORA rhythmic trance. There are beats, but they’re staggered and irregular; there is introspective quietness but it’s inside short interludes. That variable percussion, manic tremolo, rising synths and noise coming in and out of focus convey the sense of uneasiness, tension, anxiety. It’s intentional because album’s title comes from a 1919 poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world


The poem is classic post-war disillusionment shock. Ripe with beautiful pessimism, it’s talking about the incoming end of the world. Since the album has tracks titled “Healthcare” and “A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000” (which is just a 12 second long, implying its purpose as a form of statement and not musical piece), one can assume the theme is less nuanced than the poem’s. Let’s not beat around a bush – it’s probably the currently fashionable apocalyptic feelings of a modern liberalism, since USA has a republican president again.

Overall, Centre is a brilliant piece of avant-garde electronic/noise music and is recommended to fans of Tim Hecker or Roly Porter. Meanwhile, Steve Albini followers should be prepared to be surprised since it may be one of the most unusual things he was involved with in recent years.


user ratings (31)
Chart.
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
luci
December 2nd 2017


10559 Comments


This was excellent, slept on this year.

Astral Abortis
December 3rd 2017


6747 Comments


I bought this when it came out and still haven't listened, I need to get on it asap

insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
December 3rd 2017


4682 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is a great album. I randomly downloaded it after seeing the cover. It's so opaque I was curious how the music actually sounded.

Digging: A Swarm of the Sun - The Woods

Eames
December 3rd 2017


35 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

There's also "Threshold of Faith" EP. It has the same opening track while others are mostly quiet interludes.

Chortles
December 4th 2017


21353 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

nice one, i had no idea albini was involved in this to any degree. also not sure why this was so overlooked after the success of aurora

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
December 4th 2017


2905 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Ben Frost is one of the only people I have ever seen live on my own. He played in Thekla, a permanently moored boat in Bristol - the same one Mark Kozelek mentions in UK Blues. The experience was exactly like getting my face blown off. I left deliriously happy.



Notes on A Second Coming:

- it quite accurately depicts a schizophrenic episode (see "The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness", Jung, Laing's "Divided Self" & "Politics of Experience")

- the beast is also interpreted as capitalism, as in Deleuze & Guatarri's deified schizo-capitalism

- it could be post-war shock, but this is more than war related. social trauma from one part of the world (not just war, but the death of god, the end of objectivity) infects globalised socially-constructed realities to become everyone's trauma. the experience continues for individuals everywhere until we find a way to break through or kill each other in panic.

- careful about over-Americanising. Ben Frost is not American, neither is most of the world. Trump is part of a much larger thing (responses to this social sickness).

- we're so overwhelmingly fucked



I don't place Frost with liberalism on this one. He's surfing the bridge between anxiety, anger and horror which is defining a lot of our experiences. It seems very instinctual to me, very distorted and forceful, where (spectacular) liberalism is more into clear, "rational" representation.



:D



pos'd



TheBarber
December 4th 2017


3756 Comments


Seriously one of my all-time favorite musicians, seing AURORA live made me into a single point of blinding light and since then all his stuff messes with my head.
Needless to say I'm haaappy that theres a new record and just can't wait to see how'll it'll metamorphose me this time.
Will read rev afterwards, ta !

ShitsofRain
December 4th 2017


8100 Comments


loving the cover art

Eames
December 5th 2017


35 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@strangerofsorts

Yeah, I knew Frost is an Australian living in Iceland and I'm not American myself. It's the tracks' titles that give it away. Healthcare is a debate only in USA, Hellfire is American and there also has been a trove of statement albums made as a response to unexpected presidency of Trump. In fact so many that it's even cliché at this point.

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
December 5th 2017


2905 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm a Brit living in Hungary, and healthcare is a debate in both. I bring the Americanising thing up because it diminishes the album for me. Regardless of intentions, the reviewer can influence what the album is. So is it a statement album or something better?



I mean listen to that force.

Eames
December 6th 2017


35 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Is it a statement? We can't know. Is there *a* statement? Probably. Every Frost album has references to something. It's just that I hate politics in my music, it diminishes albums for me too. The other recent example was "Shameless Years" by Rafael Anton Irisarri. Judging from the presentation, you'd have no idea it's a statement but on album's website it says it's a response to Trump = immediate disappointment. Or the that infamous Godspeed's "Luciferian Towers" manifesto. Just a personal pet peeve of mine currently.

TheBarber
December 6th 2017


3756 Comments


Eames you do seem to be the one projecting trump's america on this one though, the only clear mention of the USA is from the Hellfire missile and that's been an issue way before trump even came to power.

Although I do believe this is a political charged album (just not by the scale you mentionned), I fail to see how that fact diminishes the music if anything. Especially when politics, wich are becoming more and more present and subject to open heated disussions in our societies for all people (at least in France where I come from), are given the face of this unthinkable dread this album exudes. The anxiety of the overall chaos of global politics to wich we are getting more and more lucid, whichever side you feel you're on, is a terrifying theme to touch upon. And so I believe the emotions of this album, disconnected from these themes, might not hit as hard as they could.

Do you believe music to be unpolitical ? Why does it irk you or dissapoint you to see or feel politics in your music ?

In addition to my genuine curiosity about these questions this a good review. And this album... it's gonna need some more spins.

StrangerofSorts
Staff Reviewer
December 6th 2017


2905 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Afraid I'm with Barber, Eames. The diminishing for me is not from politics as a whole, but reactionary, Trump/US specific lenses. I agree that Rafael was a little off beat with that release. The reason for this, however, was not that it was political, but that it was reactionary - the idea that the crisis is recent rather than systemic. Such as thinking the news used to be "T"rue.

(I like the Luciferian Towers manifesto)

A really awesome thing you can do politically is take peoples' reactionary albums out of their intentional context and make them better. The reviewer has a lot of power to do this. "Despite intentions, the album is about more..." As soon as it is released, an album is not theirs anymore, it's everyone's (for better or worse).

This is the best thing about doing music criticism/ reviews - you get to contribute to what the album is



JS19
December 7th 2017


7007 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I feel like the crap cover might have something to do with this being slept on after AURORA having such a good one

Eames
December 8th 2017


35 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yes, I'm projecting USA slightly because I don't see other angle yet and it may be a mistake caused by seeing too many political albums recently.

As for the rest, it's about abstraction and self-insert. Politics in music is a double-edged sword: when your and artist's political views (which fundamentally are a matter of taste) align, then it may enhance the intended feeling but if they don't, then it's the opposite. Good example is books vs movies: while reading, you can imagine what you want to imagine but movies spell everything clearly, leaving nothing for imagination. Same reason why webcomics without persistent characters draw faces very simplified – so you can self-insert yourself of others.

Another example was when I discovered NIN's "Downward Spiral". The raw, brutal, naked sincerity lyrics left a huge impression. I imagined Trent being this brooding, somber, tortured poet making deep art by a candlelight in Tate's mansion. But then I saw the documentary and over there the band was drunkenly fooling around, making pranks and just being funny. It was a stark contrast to my imagined atmosphere, it permanently slightly diminished my enjoyment of the album since now it seemed somewhat fake. It's how you can enjoy a foreign language music but then later you translate the lyrics and it turns they are repulsive.

I can appreciate RATM or GYBE art and I can even understand where their views are coming from, their reasons for holding the beliefs they hold. But ultimately they're very different from my own (again – politics are a matter of taste), so the same situation will evoke different emotion for me when compared to them. As for someone who's from a post-Soviet country, those bands' affection to socialism is cringy at best and infuriating at worst. I have to manually forget their associations. It's how half the people feel doom and gloom because someone they dislike are in power, while the other half is enjoying it and sees no reason to be apocalyptic.

While abstract instrumental album like Frost's still evokes same intended feelings for (almost) everyone, different people will imagine different situations where such feelings could arise. While for some it's who's currently in power, for others it may be what current power is fighting *against*. You know what they say: "don't ever meet your heroes". The same way it's not smart for businesses to get political because it may alienate a lot of people. So I'd rather not have politics in my music.

All this may be VERY ironic if it turns out that I was just putting words into Frost's mouth...

JS19
December 8th 2017


7007 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

so the short version of that is you get triggered when someone isn't right-wing got it

JS19
December 8th 2017


7007 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

'Ben Frost is one of the only people I have ever seen live on my own. He played in Thekla'



When was this because I live round Bristol area and if I missed this I will be so upset

Arcade
Staff Reviewer
January 12th 2019


120 Comments


by far the loudest and most punishing live performance i have ever heard

Digging: James Blake - Assume Form



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