Ben Frost, “The Centre Cannot Hold”

Ben Frost
The Centre Cannot Hold

You have to be in a particular mood to enjoy Ben Frost’s music. Maybe you’re always in that mood and the Icelandic (by way of Australia) composer is your favorite musician. Maybe you’re never in that mood and you can’t stand Frost, or have never heard of him. Or maybe you’re the sort of person who appreciates what he does, but have to be ready to gnash your teeth and punch a wall before playing his music. That he can inspire such a variety of reactions is a testament to his experimental chops—his willingness to push things to an edge, past that edge, and tumbling down a hundred-foot cliff. His music can be grating, obstructive, evil, sinister, and ugly. Yet there’s something both charming and beautiful in how he embraces these characteristics, eventually pulling something beautiful out of the rubble. It’s harsh music for a harsh world; it’s rarely sparkly, but when it is, Ben Frost proves that some things that glitter, well, they actually are gold.

Frost’s fifth studio album, The Centre Cannot Hold, sounds a bit like the world ending and a bit like the civilization after ours cultivating their new society. It’s impossible to start a Ben Frost LP anywhere but the beginning; this is not a singles record. Picking out a particular moment to highlight can be like trying to find Waldo while blackout on whiskey. But, paradoxically, it’s these staggering individual moments, when beauty is surrounded by the chaos and madness of Frost’s world, that push his music to its otherworldly endpoint.

A lot of modern-day experimental music attempts to develop a particular thesis, to center around a core theme, that, if unable to be deciphered, can certainly be philosophized and discussed. The Centre Cannot Hold aims to dispel such a necessity. Sure, it’s anchored to a theme—ten days recording with Steve Albini (paging Blumhouse Productions: I’ve found your next horror script)—but Frost’s music is all about creating and dwelling in a space, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable that space may be or what he intends on discussing once we’re all there. On “A Sharp Blow in Passing,” that home is cozy and warm, speckled with UK dubstep percussion and shimmering, cosmic synths. Elsewhere, on “Eurydice’s Heel,” Frost brings the madness, layering noise upon itself until the mass of it turns into something new. “Ionia” does something similar, scratching and clawing at the walls before morphing into a post-rave apocalypse, chiming synths and crispy textures available to the ears but pushed deep into the periphery of Frost’s concoction.

The Centre Cannot Hold is overtly political. Its titles (“A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000” being a prime example) and tones depict a chaos and depression many in our country face on a daily basis. As an outsider, Ben Frost shares a unique look into just how bad it seems. Spoiler alert: It’s bad. Frost isn’t here to save us, but if the apocalypse does come, at least we have our soundtrack.


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