a closer listen

Ben Frost ~ The Centre Cannot Hold

The Centre Cannot Hold arrives two months and a day after the EP Threshold of Faith, and stems from sessions Ben Frost recorded with Steve Albini.  Now we learn that the EP contains alternate versions and remixes of songs from the main album along with exclusives and one track ~ highlight “Threshold of Faith” ~ identical on each.  The tactic is reminiscent of the early releases by Nine Inch Nails, another maverick of his time.  It also opens discussion about “definitive” versions.  While we prefer the original “Threshold of Faith”, the EP’s shorter, nearly acoustic version (“Your Own Blood”) opens a window into the creative process.  The same principle holds true on “All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated” (are we sure this isn’t NIN?), whose length on the album proper equals that of the two prior versions combined.  After encountering a chime-laden “Swing Version” and a wildly percussive Lotic remix, fans can finally hear what these versions were commenting on.  The chimes remain, although the beats no longer leap from the speakers.  A host of drones stands in their place, supported by dark bass, with a beautiful ambient retreat in the center, which of course cannot hold.  This has always been the way of Frost’s music, although it’s never been more apparent.  Sonic anarchy seems win every battle, purposely reflecting a world on the brink of collapse.

The titles, many inspired by Greek mythology, hint of hubris.  If one needs the message to be any more obvious, there’s “Heathcare” and the 13-second “A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000”.  The mood is unrelentingly bleak.  Even the chimes can’t stand against the banks of bleary electronics, which only occasionally break into beats.  Whenever they do (as in the second half of “Ionia”), they offer a hint of form, a hitching post that turns out to be rotted at its base.  Very little humanity is on display here, a commentary on the current condition.

The use of the color blue is worth note.  Half of the cover is blue; the lead video is drenched in blue; the closing piece is “Entropy in Blue”.  While the traditional color associations are with calm (positive) and depression (negative), the closing track is neither, especially as extra beats begin to drop.  At first, one thinks that Frost is attempting to create a new symbolism.  But then, at the very end, a few seconds of surf, cut off mid-crash: the only warm sound on the album, snatched away.  But at least we remember the calm sea still exists, somewhere, if only we can remember how to get there.  (Richard Allen)

Available here