Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Visceral. This is the word to describe the music of Ben Frost. It is, like the alien from Alien, alive. From its title and cover art of prowling wolves on an industrial winter’s night, to their uncomfortably close-mic’ed snarling in The Carpathians, this is not background music. Though the Melbourne-born, Reykjavik resident is responsible for the perfectly listenable if brutal-in-a-stabby-sort-of-way soundtrack for two recent Chunky Move dance pieces, he is clearly fascinated with unsettling and exploring the range of physical responses music can invoke.
Beginning with Killshot, there is ferocity to the way he warms the ears with a low bass pulse before pummelling you with slivers of an avalanche, gorgeously plucked dulcimer strings and dissonant choirs. The shimmering intensity and sheer weight of sounds in Peter Venkman Pt 1 and the Twin Peaks-referencing Leo Needs A New Pair of Shoes show that Frost is far from being a po-faced noise artist happy to stare into a laptop and build a reputation based on an interview with The Wire. He’s clearly at home working with imaginative friends and By The Throat sees collaborations with label-mate and co-producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, Swedish metal band Crowpath, Icelandic choristers Amiina, arranger Nico Muhly and Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara all of whom lend their musicianship and personality (the thing Frost is greatest at channelling) while never allowing the record to sound cluttered.
The scope of the music on By The Throat is as vast as the feelings you’d feel were you to spend a winter on Iceland living on curious cuts of meat and bathed in the aurora borealis. Frost often uses a humanic pulse throughout a piece, such as on From The Roof Of Your Mouth over which he layers atonal violin groans and barely perceptible percussion, all the while, feeling as if a camera is panning over the ground looking for clues to a grizzly murder. The final three songs are, hilariously, named after three sequential lyrics from The Cure’s song Disintegration, though bear little resemblance to anything Robert Smith might imagine, unless of course he imagined being imprisoned in Iceland, deprived of sleep for a month and joining a fight club with Michael Gira.