Ben Frost

The Centre Cannot Hold

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For The Centre Cannot Hold, Australian experimental musician Ben Frost flew to Chicago to work with famed engineer Steve Albini, who has continually received praise for his ability to capture rawness and immediacy on tape. Besides Albini, the album sports an impressive cast of contributors, with Lawrence English, Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurðsson, and Skuli Sverrisson among the individuals credited with mixing, producing, or performing on the album. The end result is a heady, powerful listening experience which demands full, rapt attention from the listener. The compositions typically contain vast, undulating waves of distortion punctuated by pulverizing arrhythmic blows. It's dense and overwhelming, and even though it rarely settles into any standard rhythmic patterns, it never seems random or directionless. Some of the song titles hint at political themes, such as "A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000" (which is nothing more than a tiny sliver of sparkling chimes) and the spare, tremolo-laced drift "Healthcare," but the album as a whole seems more intent on expressing general feelings of dread, panic, and uncertainty rather than any specific incidents. "Threshold of Faith," previously released on an EP of the same name, kicks the album off with a mass of swarming fuzz and unnerving sonic booms, with sparkling melodies undercut by ominous, Darth Vader-like breathing. "A Sharp Blow in Passing" builds up a miasma of sorrowful drones and knocking beats, letting a starry melody surface before suddenly switching scenes away from the glimmer of hope. "Trauma Theory" features some of the album's most viciously grinding tones, sounding like an intensely vibrating machine that will instantly sever one of your limbs if you get too close to it, joined by warped twinkling star melodies which seem to signify wonder and astonishment, but not necessarily optimism. "Ionia" has eerily bending strings and a delicately tiptoeing plucked melody, and eventually ends up with a churning downtempo beat. The longest track bears the bluntly brutal title "All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated," but it ends up being more foreboding than sounding like an actual attack. As its title suggests, The Centre Cannot Hold constantly seems on the verge of collapse, but it never descends into utter chaos. It gets abrasive and engulfing, but it isn't accurate to describe it as a noise album. Frost and his associates expertly harness levels of sheer energy, resulting in a brilliantly forceful, commanding work.

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