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Ben Frost - By the Throat

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Artist: Ben Frost

Album: By the Throat

Label: Bedroom Community

Review date: Dec. 2, 2009

If you’ve never watched Twin Peaks, you wouldn’t know where Ben Frost took the song title "Leo Needs A New Pair of Shoes" from. It would not negatively impact your understanding of the music that makes up By The Throat and you might, after all, see the album’s cover as an arctic take on Lost Highway‘s visual language. But even if you don’t pick up on that, you wouldn’t necessarily miss out on what Frost is doing here. The record does offer itself up to a number of different approaches, however, and Twin Peaks makes sense to me not only because the line is funny and menacing in the same breath but because Twin Peaks has been coming up as a reference enough recently to make it seem like the beginnings of a portal.

Part of the power that TP still exerts on viewers is the sense of mysteries collapsing through each other like floors of a burning building. Off the dome, I can think of a few TP-themed musics: Bohren & der Club of Gore’s Dolores, a lethargic album-length take on Angelo Badalamenti’s déjà-estranged take on jazz; Mount Eerie’s "Laura Palmer’s Theme"-via-Moby’s-"Go"-sampling "Between Two Mysteries" from this year’s Wind’s Poem; and the song title "Invitation to Love" from Mokira’s excellent Persona. Fascination with woods and night goes beyond whatever ironic ‘90s pull the show may have for some, and although musically By The Throat has less in common with the aforementioned sonically than with Pita and Stephen O’Malley’s KTL project or structurally than with Max Richter’s recently reissued Memoryhouse.

Frost’s music here is thoughtfully structured, although the opening seconds of the first track, "Killshot," recall the savage way Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma deploys itself. Appropriately grisly digital distortion swells among a dulcimer theme that tries to work itself out. It’s unclear if it’s working despite its surroundings or is oblivious to them, but it’s obvious enough that there’s a structure at work in this track and the ones following it that suggests a linear, if totally obscure, narrative unfurling. Which reveals By The Throat‘s price of admission: there’s too much of a program here for it to be totally enjoyable either as noise music or dark ambient or whatever else the sounds imply. Taken alone, "O God Protect Me" sounds like Burzum’s patience-testing, 25-minute ambient experiment "Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Säule Der Singularität" clocking in to work at the glitch factory, but in the context of the songs surrounding it — wolf soundscape "The Carpathians," and album centerpiece "Híbakúsja" — the track feels more like a buttress than a freestanding structure.

Frost combines more traditional classical instrumentation, like a vigorously-sawed cello on "Peter Venkman, Part 1," with pretty sophisticated audio processing in a way that reinforces the musicality of crunchy noise and the raw timbres of string instruments. It’s strange to hear Max/MSP as an integral part of stuff that might be described as really dark chamber music concrète, but the net result is awesome and delivers on the ambitiousness that underwrites this project. Though listeners, including myself, may not be ready to consistently give the attention that By The Throat demands to be really enjoyed, the shape of the feeling it’s trying to get at and ultimately just giving itself over to is a better measure of its success. The Twin Peaks portal is equally a trapdoor, and Frost’s contribution is a fascinating one.

By Brandon Bussolini

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