Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute, 2017)

Centre Cannot Hold

I like to sit on the fence, play Devil’s Advocate, be ambivalent: is there not, afterall, some merit to both sides of almost any discussion? I have opinions of course, will find myself leaning towards one cause or another, but I always leave room for doubt, for flexibility. In today’s world this attitude seems almost impermissible: political identity is left or right, hardline liberal or extreme fascist. As seen in Frost’s hyper-minimal album art, there’s no space left in between viewpoints, no nuance or spectrum to thought. Our world is a polarised one, teetering on a knife-edge.

There hardly even seems space for hope of redemption; opening “Threshold of Faith” echoes his now 8 year old By The Throat and the life-support suction of “Ó God Protect Me”, clamouring breaths sucking harshly in true physical desperation. Psychological fear has been left far behind now, there is violence behind actions in this new world as a chaotic mulch of electronica unwinds, stomping bass curving into a mass of fractal glimmering as the world shatters into a thousand silvery shards.

These early pieces are filled with a dread force, a mobilised darkness that will leave a scorched Earth in its wake. “A Sharp Blow In Passing” feels woozy and concussed, hanging in muted and dazed drones as it dribbles and greys out, sliding into shimmering synths as stars begin to swim in our eyes, those beautiful and abrupt visual manifestations of damage. The triplet of destruction culminates in the scouring force of “Trauma Theory”, jarring currents of gravelly noise abrading incessantly, consuming all available senses. A wailing, mournful aria to pain cries out, woozy and off-kilter arpeggiations lamenting seemingly irreconcilable differences that have been drawn up.

This warring leads to brooding, the remaining pieces nursing their wounds and treading cautiously around topics. “Meg Ryan Eyez” finds itself lost in contemplative passages, veiled and loose, shielded from the chaos around it in celebrity fixation and blissful, contented ignorance. Reductive “Healthcare” finds itself in similar throes, mournful electronic spinnings oscillating out in sad waves devoid of power. It’s not apathetic, it just feels helpless; repeated arguments and logical insistences fall endlessly on deaf ears, neglected and ignored.

There is however one flash of hope, one rallying cry submerged like a diamond in the rough: “Ionia”. Lingering with intent it resists with each passing breath, slowly debasing arguments and fighting its corner in tirelessly grinding drone and pecking synths before climbing up passionately. It bears actual musicality in its climax, honest and genuine sound emerging for a just cause as chiming xylophonic tones chase back the intruding void.

But it all feels hopeless in the end, as penultimate “All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated” carefully carves out in its 8 minutes of frothing digital agitation and passing, starry twinklings. Centrism, balance, calm; it’s slowly abraded away in depressingly bleak and drawn out passages, all compassion and relatability spiralling away down the plug-hole before tipping into the unerringly menacing closer “Entropy In Blue”. Unquestionably a nod to conservatism, it strikes a deliberately political stance at the end in its resistant and threatening atmosphere, all cold and oppressive and mechanistic. Darkness has a colour here and it is blue, the rallying banner of conservatives worldwide. It pummels the senses, fighting the course of progress in its aggressive and cleverly reversed beats, growing all the time, right till the abrupt end.

Frost makes his sentiments clear, the side he is on plain, and demands a simple answer. In a time where there is no spectrum of views, no subtlety to discourse: are you one of us, or one of them?

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