Ben Frost’s Aurora
Are albums intended to be inspirational or are they just catharsis? Or is it a lot more complicated than that?
That’s the question that rattles the psyche after each listen of Iceland-based electronica artist Ben Frost’s new album A U R O RA . To call this collection of songs challenging may be putting it lightly. These are wordless sonic shape-shifters that morph and meander, unraveling a cavalcade of emotions that vary with each new listen. Like most albums and narratives, its best to start at the beginning. Building on the album’s title, Frost divides the album into three parts, Of Heat, Of Light and Of The Sun, each third composing of three songs, not one of which is similar to its predecessor.
Album opener “Flex” is a slow-moving stew of ominous noises that combines celestial wheezing, something akin to a jackhammer and a bevy of machinated throbbing. The disc leaps into a cauldron of cacophony on the chaotic melisma that is “Nolan.” After a rousing opening minute, the song simmers down, settling into a valley of repeated knocking, whirring and hissing. Halfway through the song, a pulse starts to form and the song feels like its heading skyward, second by second, the script unravels and by the four-minute mark it is almost as if the heavens are about to open and send down torrents of rain. As if cognizant of what the listener might expect, “Nolan” plateaus once again and yields to a thumping outro that helps anchor the song’s final 90 seconds. The entire exercise is not only overwhelming but also exhausting, like a late night taxi ride in New York City after one too many drinks. The album’s first third closes with the uneven “The Teeth Behind Kisses,” which after an uninspired first 60 seconds practically dissolves into utter silence in the middle half. The song never materializes from there and the cleverly titled bookend fades away into oblivion.
Clang and clatter return on “Secant,” which noisily wobbles along without offering much in the way of substance. One almost feels tempted to press the skip button and then, without warning, the song jubilantly lurches forward at the three-minute mark sending the song skyward and sliding face-first into a puddle of crashing cymbals, concussive drums and a vortex of noises that are ready to splatter logical thought all over the walls. That sensation doesn’t change on the near unlistenable “Diphenyl Oxalate.” Thankfully it’s only 60 seconds long. The album’s middle tier closes with “Venter,” easily the album’s most subdued, accessible and direct effort. Pay close attention to the song’s final two minutes, which finds Frost at not only his most creative but also his most inspired. On an album heavy with stormy undercurrents and dark, foreboding textures “Venter” actually tries to find something more breathable, open and engaging. If only A U R O RA had more “Venter.” If only.
The album’s final third opens with “No Sorrowing,” a lunar, almost linear cut that offers very little in the way of reward. Though its placement on the album is not nearly as head-scratching as that of “The Teeth Behind Kisses” and “Diphenyl Oxalate,” it is another song of uninspired filler that does little to support the album’s overreaching attempts at grandiosity. Thankfully, Frost hits his finest stride on penultimate offering “Sola Fide,” a near seven minute cut that rises, soars and crests above a histrionic and at times schizophrenic melange of noises. Despite the sometimes bonkers moments of “Sola Fide,” there’s still a lot to like and those winning moments are what help carry the song forward. A U R O R A goes for broke though on the dizzying, chaotic and leave-it-all-on-the-table romp “A Single Point of Binding Light,” a drunken cocktail of MDMA, neon lights and raging testosterone.
These days as music becomes more synthetic and beat-driven the days of organic, guitar driven ditties appear further and further away. As these computer-aided albums enter the frame, they make it harder for the rest of the pack. There are certain sounds and sensations that only laptop programming can create. And yet even with that conceit, Frost has still managed to do something wholly original, separate and daring. Are we to believe that albums like A U R O R A are the future of music or this just an album created by a quirky composer? While ruminating over these questions, there’s also the question of whether or not turning knobs and pressing buttons is true musicianship. But after only a few listens to A U R O R A it’s clear that the disc while perhaps not musically savant is actually the very epitome of art. And even though its placement in the modern music landscape might offer up a grim future, the songs on A U R O R A challenge, bend and twist the psyche in ways that most artists can only dream of. Not since fellow Icelandic musician Bjork has an artist been so willing to redefine the parameters of art, music and the lines in between. Now five albums into an oft-overlooked career, A U R O R A might very well be the sea change that gives Frost more recognition.
A Summer’s Tale: U.S. Premiere is Worth the Wait
In another summer film season chock full of derivative tent-pole escapism and banal comedic schlock, the long-awaited U.S. premiere of Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale has been a most welcome escape. Eric Rohmer’s film, which debuted in New York City six days ago, is a cinematic tour-de-force that charms and marvels from the very first frame. The film, which premiered in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes in 1996, is the third entry in Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons project and the only one that had never been released theatrically in America. Despite the near two-decade wait, its arrival on American shores must not to be overlooked. Read more…
Old-School Crooning Takes Center Stage
Performing songs from what they call the Great American Songbook, Chicago quartet Under the Streetlamp crooned effortlessly through an 80 minute set last night at the King Center for Performing Arts in Melbourne, FL. Read more…
The Rise and Fall of Salvador Dali Parton: Nashville’s Supergroup That Wasn’t
In October of last year, a Nashville supergroup was formed.
Using the name Salvador Dali Parton, the band included Jake Orrall (JEFF the Brotherhood), Mike Harris (Apache Relay), Winston Marshall (Mumford and Sons), Justin Hayward-Young (The Vaccines) and Gil Landry (Old Crow Medicine Show).
Salvador Dali Pardon then performed a series of six shows in ONE night (Saturday, Oct. 26) at the following venues: The High Watt, The Exit/In, The Stone Fox, The Springwater and The Coyote Ranch. Salvador Dali Parton kept their output a secret and never released any material. They did however promise to release a live recording compiled of the best songs from each of their performances.
The following day Salvador Dali Parton closed up shop, vaguely promising to still release those recordings. All inquiries to Salvador Dali Pardon’s press team have revealed very little.
Will Salvador Dali Parton ever see the light of day?
All of us at RMP are certainly hoping so!
Lydia Loveless Covers Ke$ha
Lydia Loveless is the best thing that’s happened to alt-country since Son Volt. The consummate risk-taker who is unafraid to shake things up, she is wise beyond her years and loaded with armfuls of talent.
In anticipation of Record Store Day, she’s released a cover of pop starlet Ke$ha’s “Blind,” and given it an alt-country makeover. That it’s as splendid as it is, only further elucidates the power this Ohio youngster possesses.
Elliot & The Ghost Ponder Love on Debut EP
RMP favorites Elliot & The Ghost have returned with Is This Love, their self-financed and self-released debut EP that firmly establishes them as one of Brooklyn’s bands to watch in 2014 and beyond. Read more…
Trying to understand The Great Beauty
For a week now I’ve been ruminating over the Oscar-winning Italian film The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino’s romantic, acerbic and deeply provocative narrative about Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a celebrity journalist trying to navigate his place in the world. Anchored by panoramic shots of Rome and a spellbinding soundtrack, the film skillfully weaves the whirring rush of high society shindigs with the iconic and historic splendor of one of Europe’s most beloved destinations. Gambardella’s watershed moment is the unexpected death of his teenage flame and how her passing forces Gambardella to take stock of his career, his life thus far and his ensuing future. Though it plods along at times, the 125-minute piece has many a scene that deftly blend comedy, introspection and beauty into one cohesive and masterful piece. Granted there’s a lot to digest (most of which is head-scratching and pretentious) but in the subtler scenes is something truly magnetic. Foreign films have a way of hitting at the core in ways American films never do and The Great Beauty is certainly no exception.
PBS Pledge Month is a Music Fan’s Paradise
PBS has forsaken original programming in lieu of March being pledge month, but Holy Moses, there’s a plethora of great content. Already this month, I’ve enjoyed The Dukes of September, the Bob Dylan Tribute Concert, Ed Sullivan’s Rock n’ Roll Classics and and John Sebastian’s Folk Rewind. Oh, I know, this is all syndicated stuff, but the diversity of the content is absolutely terrific. Some days my love for PBS knows no bounds.
Abraham McDonald Dazzles On New Single
We’re always grateful for the songs that came through the inbox here at RMP, but I was quite puzzled when “Dreams Come True,” a duet fearing Abraham McDonald and Rebecca Holden was sent to me. Turns out the song is moving up the Billboard AC charts and last month sat at #41. But who exactly are McDonald and Holden?
A quick Google search yields that McDonald won Oprah’s Karaoke Challenge in 2010, a $250,000 cash prize and a record deal with Island Def Jam. Holden, on the other hand, was on the 80s TV show Knight Rider and charted two country singles in the late 1980s. How exactly these two came together remains to be known, but if the song proves anything it’s how immensely talented McDonald truly is. Holden is a fine singer and her parts are solid, but they don’t have the same sonic impact as that of McDonald. While an unnecessary machinated beat threatens to ruin the song, the inherent skill of McDonald keeps the song from steering off into disaster. The accompanying lyric video below perfectly captures the sentiment of the song. A belated Happy Valentines Day, ya’all.
Empires Raise the Stakes on New Single
I have no idea who Empires is. But holy crap, I love them.
Being a staffer at AbsolutePunk.net, I’ve seen their name here and there but I have very limited knowledge of their output. But all that has changed now that lead single “How Good Does it Feel,” has [URL="https://soundcloud.com/weareempires/how-good-does-it-feel"]entered the world[/URL]. An urgent, antic and absolutely explosive new song, this may be one of the best tracks I’ve heard so far this year. The band’s debut album [I]Orphan[/I] was produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, The Black Angels, Explosions in the Sky) and appears on the Island Records imprint Chop Shop. Empires is on tour through May with Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos and stops in SXSW.
For more details about the band, head here.