Bedroom Community

Press Reviews for BY THE THROAT

Many recording artists claim they “don’t sound like anyone else” and “can’t be pigeonholed into a genre.” Few live up to this claim, but Ben Frost is a true original, and his new album makes an imperative statement: top this. Why is Ben Frost so good? Because he’s eager to collaborate, not simply by inviting guest stars along, but by listening to and incorporating their ideas. As an integral part of Iceland’s Bedroom Community, Frost is one of a rotating cast of musicians who have been touched by fire: Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurdsson are two names well-known to our readers. Last fall, I had the opportunity to see Frost in Iceland, sharing a stage with Kippi Kaninus and Amiina, and seldom have I witnessed such an unselfish performance. Everybody played their part, but nobody sought the spotlight.

Frost’s influences are myriad. There’s a touch of Pärt (apparent here on “Peter Venkman Pt II”), a bow to industrial grind (the crunching opener, “Killshot”), and even a hat-tip to Japanese minimalism (“Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes”). And yet, no piece falls into a distinct genre; each is a stitching, far more than the sum of its parts. Nico Muhly makes an appearance, as do Amiina, Jeremy Gara (drummer for Arcade Fire), and Swedish metal combo Crowpath. This international cross-pollination breeds one of the year’s most exciting splices. And then there are the wolves, howling a snow-bound path between the first two tracks and appearing again half an hour later, just when it seems the danger has passed. This is dangerous, visionary music. There’s welcome restraint, but nothing ambivalent, nothing shy.

Where did all this anger come from? It was bound to happen in the wake of Iceland’s economic collapse, one which brought embarrassment to the nation as even “the world’s most peaceful citizens” were incited to riot. Distinctively Icelandic, however, were the phalanxes of citizens who shielded officers from the more raucous, brick-throwing protesters, demonstrating peace in the middle of turmoil, hope in the middle of conflict, a stolid reminder that there was something worth fighting for: not finances, but the definition of national character. This same tension exists in Frost’s compositions. Aching beauty haunts the sonic cracks, not only in the abrasion, but in the predominance of melody, the lilting of strings, and the quiet moments of the album’s closing trilogy. We are left incomplete, let down gently, asked to continue the story ourselves.

The music scene is hot on new labels, attaching the “post” prefix to everything imaginable: post-psychedelic, post-industrial, post-rock. Ecclesiastes once wrote, “There is nothing new in the whole wide world.” But he was wrong. This is something new. Give me a hundred albums like this, and I’ll buy them all. But there won't be a hundred albums like this, because we don’t have a hundred composers who are simultaneously this daring and this talented, who are able to produce sounds so raw and yet so finessed, so otherworldly and yet so naggingly familiar, as if we’d encountered them somewhere in some distant dream, some pre-incarnation, some apocalyptic vision. The respirator that lends “O God Protect Me” its buried pulse is symbolic of the sounds herein: this is the birth of the new.

Highlights? There’s really no point. This isn’t an album of pick-and-choose, a salad bar of downloadable singles. Dispose of any single track and a hole appears. Instead, focus on the moments: the opening wedges of “Killshot,” which do just what the title promises; the brass introduction of “Hibakusja;” the gasping breaths that trail in its wake; the glistening glissandos of “Peter Venkman” (Bill Murray’s character in “Ghostbusters” -- the artist is not without humor); and the wolves, always the wolves. Time after time, this album provides such crystalline passages that the listener is bound to stop and take notice, to sit up, as if suddenly caffeinated, and to ask, what is going on here?

By the Throat is a break in the evolutionary ladder, a jump across links in the Darwinian chain, a re-mapping of sonic DNA. And the best part – the punchline, the denouement, the icing on the cake – is that the sounds are accessible to the common listener: neither atonal nor bizarre, but a natural outgrowth of colliding fields. Frost has chosen what works, discarded what doesn’t, culled the herd to bring us something we can bite into, something that we will return to, something that will survive. By the final note, Frost has taken modern music off the respirator and sent it once again trekking into the wild unknown.

Richard Allen

The Silent Ballet (October 5th 2009) ★★★★★★★★★

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