Release Date: May 27, 2014
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Avant-Garde, Pop/Rock, Experimental Electronic, Noise
Ben Frost's new album is markedly different from his previous records. Instead of the studio setup he's used to, Frost wrote most of A U R O R A on a laptop while on assignment in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo. The result is the darkest and most powerful recording of his career. As he recently told The Quietus, "It was confounding to me how aggressive and dictatorial it was.
A U R O R A is Australian-born, Iceland-based composer Ben Frost's fifth official album, and his first since 2011's Solaris, his collaborative project with Daníel Bjarnason. Since that time he's privately issued scores for two dance companies and Julia Leigh's film Sleeping Beauty, and produced records by Swans and Tim Hecker. Most of the music for A U R O R A was written in the Eastern DR of Congo, beneath the active Mount Nyiragongo volcano.
Having called Iceland home for the past nine years, Australian experimental multi-instrumentalist Ben Frost first reared his head back in 2001 with Music For Sad Children, a rather minimalist six-track release that melded melancholic piano themes with simmering beats and ambient pastoralism. There have been quite a few curveballs in his trajectory since, the comparably wary wanderlust of earlier material giving way to darker urges on soundtrack work, collaborative efforts such as Music for Solaris and his fourth solo album, 2009’s wonderfully foreboding By The Throat. The inexorable - seemingly inevitable - culmination of this evolution, Frost’s fifth solo outing, A U R O R A, is a brutal yet glorious release that doubles up as an unbending overture to fervour and force.
Ben Frost’s interests are vast, and that includes the way he approaches his music. The Australia-born, Iceland-based composer has written scores for dance companies, soundtracked films, and collaborated with visual artists and poets. He cast himself as a kind of endurance artist on the cover of his 2007 album Theory of Machines and, in 2013, directed his own theatrical adaption of Iain Banks’ novel The Wasp Factory.
I remember when I was in junior high school and the concept of “industrial music” first become known to me. My brother had described the music of people like Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and Nine Inch Nails, plus I had probably read something about the genre in Spin or some other similar publication. I had in my mind what industrial music should sound like before I had ever heard any of the aforementioned bands; some kind of abstract, menacing, futuristic noise collage that approximated the mixed horror and wonder of some vast factory wasteland coming to life.
For his first solo album since 2009's By the Throat, experimental composer and producer Ben Frost made himself uncomfortable. Sick of the routines he developed in the creation of his earlier albums and commissions for theatre and film, Frost ditched the comfort of his guitar, piano and string-laden studio ambiance for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He travelled across that war-torn locale as a sound designer for a Richard Mosse A/V installation, but the bulk of what would become A U R O R A was written along the way, on a laptop syphoning power from diesel generators in the heart of conflict, though a few touches by drummer Greg Fox (ex-Liturgy), Thor Harris (Swans) and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily were added later.
By all accounts, recovery from the sonic assault of Ben Frost’s last solo effort, By The Throat certainly takes some time. Not just for the fingerprints to fade and the need for a polo-neck to become less urgent; it was an album that was psychologically affecting too. Beauty, horror and raw animalistic violence hid within that album. It didn’t even hide particularly well, so much as stalk and eviscerate at will.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. I find terror to be a fairly underrated quality in music. Whether it's the noise and screams of Pharmakon, the visceral guts and bones of Swans, the full on aural and visual assault of Black Dice or the unsettling story telling of a guy like Josh T Person, I sometimes like to be scared by what I'm listening to.
Australian electronic music composer Ben Frost has been based in Iceland since 2005, but his fifth solo album was mostly written in the war-torn Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo while collaborating on a video installation with photographer Richard Mosse. Influenced by both the horrors of war and the looming threat of a nearby active volcano, A U R O R A is every bit as terrifying and brutal as those inspirations suggest, but also oddly hypnotic and contemplative. If you're not already familiar with Frost's work, you can get a good idea of his approach from his previous collaborations: he's worked with noise pioneers Swans, ambient grandfather Brian Eno and Montreal-based experimentalists Tim Hecker and Colin Stetson.
Like any musician worthy of the name, Ben Frost has been in the business of scheduling and sequencing emotion, constructing tides and cycles of sonic affect that heave in disregard of everyday rhythms, replayable via technology to the point where they assume their own independent, self-perpetuating logic. Across more than a decade of barely classifiable electronica/post-rock/avant-garde maxi-minimalism, he’s labored in the creation of a self-contained emotive pulse that’s veered from the lambent to the blistering, but with albums like 2003’s Steel Wound, 2009’s By The Throat, and 2011’s Sólaris, there had always been some residual connection with the mundane order their abstracted repose and volatility seemingly tried to obviate, be it through the plangent guitar drip of “Last Exit to Brooklyn” or the unstable strings of “Reyja. ” Now, with fifth album A U R O R A, it appears that Frost has almost entirely detached himself from the organic strands of humanity and earthed sentiments these earlier works quoted, producing defections of machined drang and blazed intensity that climb at a dislocated remove from anything communicable or assimilable.
Ben Frost, an Iceland-dwelling Australian, was recently asked to talk about his favourite sport, basketball, and specifically the American professional league, the NBA. Quizzed about his favourite player, he opted for Blake Griffin, a 6ft10 powerhouse renowned for his extraordinary athleticism and savage, crushing slam dunks. It’s telling that Frost selected Griffin: the kind of clinical, controlled, yet simultaneously explosive violence that characterises his playing style is omnipresent in Frost’s music.
Australian-born, Iceland-dwelling composer Ben Frost has been releasing deep, punishing, nuanced drone work for more than a decade. Though Frost often plays guitars and has composed for buzzing string ensembles, his latest explores an uglier, colder palette of sounds closer to electronic and industrial music. Unrelentingly menacing, it's a 40-minute suite of VHS grinding, wistful Blade Runner synths, howling white noise and broken Detroit techno.
A U R O R A is Ben Frost’s first solo album since 2009’s By The Throat, and his most accomplished yet. In the intervening five years, Frost has worked under the mentorship of Brian Eno and taken on an impressive range of projects, from composing the score for Julia Leigh’s film Sleeping Beauty to having a hand in recording and producing Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972 and Colin Stetson’s New History Warfare albums, and writing and directing an opera based on Iain Banks’ novel The Wasp Factory. For The Enclave, a video installation piece, Frost travelled with artist Richard Mosse and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As a longtime fan of ambient music and of drumming, I’ve wondered how to write music that might connect the former genre with the latter tactic without automatically producing a demo that might have arrived in the offices of Nothing Records circa 1996. After a failed experiment involving a microphone, a floor tom, a sampler, a computer plug-in entitled “jet drive,” and the sympathetic but ultimately telling facial expressions of friends who have impeccable taste, I was convinced that it was difficult if not impossible. Ambient music, which is to say the arrangement of long overlapping strains of melody, and drumming, which is percussive rhythm often in the absence of melody, seem counterintuitive in nature or are, at the very least, difficult to combine without sounding like a dickhead (read: Industrial musician; performer of various strains of prog; purveyor of inaccessible varieties of classical).
Ben Frost — A U R O R A (Mute)Ben Frost’s music seems content to occupy a blissfully genre-defying space. His previous album, 2010’s By the Throat, had cover artwork that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a metal album —not to mention some sounds that wouldn’t have been out of place there as well. But his influences extend beyond that; his involvement with the Bedroom Community collective, along with Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurðsson, suggests some of his reach and ambition, to say nothing of a disinterest in neatly-labeled musical categories.