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Press Reviews for Theory of Machines

"I'm interested in ugly sounds, cold sounds," writes Ben Frost, born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1980 but resident since 2005 in Reykjavik, Iceland. But, as Steve Albini will tell you, the rawest, nastiest, grittiest sounds, the ones that make you wonder whether those speakers need replacing, are the ones that need the most studio time. Frost's manipulation of software was impressive enough on his 2003 outing Steelwound (Room40), but here, under the watchful eye of Room40's Lawrence English and producer Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Nico Muhly..), it's simply awesome. On "We Love You Michael Gira" – the title nails the composer's colours to the mast and reminds us that minimalism was never just the polished sheen of Reich and Glass, but also the sweat and grime of Gira's Swans – a distressing and distressingly regular beep (Frost states that the piece was inspired by the sound of a reversing truck) evolves gradually into a gentle piano pulse, and a truly brutal metallic guitar gives way to an all too human string quartet, itself replaced by a dirty sample from Swans' "Red Sheet".

Stripping away the technology reveals a deeper, darker minimalism, a disarmingly simple descending minor scale fragment worthy of Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt. But this is Arvo Pärt as arranged by Trent Reznor: the emotional power of Frost's music comes precisely from the stark contrast between extremely basic musical material and the deadly virtual instruments he invents to perform it. On "Stomp", a gloomy, thudding bass is gradually obliterated by lacerating guitar to create something as menacing and claustrophobic as a dark corridor in Lost Highway – David Lynch is, not surprisingly, another Frost hero. In the closing magnificent "Forgetting You is Like Breathing Water" (title courtesy Stina Nordenstam), the inhuman precision of icy synths morphs almost imperceptibly into the tenderness and fragility of real instruments, whose eternally rising minor scales overlap to form subtly changing harmonies as immaculate and unspoiled as the barren beauty of Frost's adopted country.

Dan Warburton

The Wire (March 1st 2007)

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