Last week, Ben Frost pulled a Beyoncé by dropping a surprise mini-album. Those who follow Frost (literally, as in It Follows) might have seen this coming, but the rest of us were caught happily off guard. Threshold of Faith is the first evidence of last year’s sessions with Steve Albini, representing but a quarter of the material, while whetting our appetite for things to come. At half an hour, it’s long enough to entertain, and in the wake of the opera The Wasp Factory restores the interest of our instrumental site.
Fans of By the Throat will be particularly enthralled, as the title track is a card from the same deck. The piece is a declarative statement, rife with rusty electronics, deep bass booms and sonic pings. There’s no compromise here, no wink to the mainstream. While listening, one mulls the fact that this sound, once the fingerprint of only a few, has since been adopted by so many, especially in the genre of grime (more on that later). But only a few can do it like Frost, who always implies an orchestra, even when none is present.
Albini is an inspired pairing for Frost, as each man is a maverick in the industry. While Albini is older, his experience in punk and independent music marks him as a man of wisdom. Meanwhile, Frost is at the head of his own scene in Iceland (although we continue to point out his Australian heritage). One suspects that Albini’s influence is most clearly heard in the quieter tracks, although his name only appears on “All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated (Albini String Version)”. This bell-laden piece may be ambient on the surface, but disguises a percussive interior, as exploited by Lotic on his own remix ~ a sign that the new generation recognizes Frost as an influence. Lotic’s drums are out of control and reined in at the same time, like a rabid dog on a frayed leash.
“Mere Anarchy” is an ironic title for the closer, as the track focuses on a repeated, slightly dissonant sound reminiscent of a rusty swing. It’s as if to say that as a punk ideal, anarchy is ~ or at least was ~ overrated. This leads to the question, what happens when the leash breaks? We look forward to the next installment, which may unveil the answer. (Richard Allen)