Available on: Bedroom Community LP
The Iceland-based Australian Ben Frost has been operating at the nexus of minimalism, post-rock, nu metal, ambient and 80s alt.rock for the best part of a decade, most notably on the widely acclaimed 2006 release Theory of Machines.
His latest album By the Throat adds a wider instrumental pallet – brass, strings, piano, koto – and a range of environmental sounds to the template established on its fearsome predecessor.
In a recent interview with The Milk Factory, Frost stated that the new album is representative of his recent listening habits: The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds, Penderecki’s Third Symphony and Chris Watson’s recordings of the natural world. The Cure influence is there in the guitar and the general sense of gloom that pervades the album, Penderecki in the romanticism, dissonance and tone clusters (and in the track ‘Hibakusja’, whose title refers to the Japanese name for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – a deliberate nod to the Polish composer’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima?)
The Watson influence is the most subtle, but gives rise to two of the standout moments of this excellent LP. First on ‘O God Protect Me’, where the sound of someone on a life support machine forms the rhythm track and then later, the recording of wolves howling that brings the beautiful ‘Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes’ to a close.
The wolves also make a brief appearance in the course of the two-part epic ‘Peter Venkman’. The namecheck for Venkman (Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters) gives a hint of the overall picture: By The Throat is soundtrack music searching for a movie. That much is evident from the opening ‘Killshot’, which marries Eraserhead-esquec sound design with a Barry Adamson-style neo-noir tune, right through to the closing trilogy of tracks describing the trajectory of a bullet, ‘Through The Glass of the Roof’ / ‘Through The Roof of Your Mouth’ / ‘Through The Mouth of Your Eye’. However, unlike Adamson, and other purveyors of “imaginary soundtracks”, Frost says he wants to present ideas, but not how the listener feels about them: “How you construct a narrative, if at all, is not in my control”.
Yet, this is a music-maker very much in control of his materials: every note, every tempo change, every effect seems carefully calculated to provide the maximum impact. ‘Hibakusja’ is exemplary in this regard, like a fight between melody and noise, where first one then the other is on top, but neither can gain complete supremacy, the listener watching from the sidelines transfixed by the desperate poetry of their movements.
I started to write that Ben Frost is a worthy heir to the likes of Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham and Mick Harris. Scratch that: there is nothing in any of their bodies of work to match the music on By the Throat. In a word, stunning.