Release Date: Dec 9, 2014
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica, Avant-Garde, Pop/Rock, Experimental Ambient, Experimental Electronic, Modern Composition, Noise
Ben Frost expands on the claustrophobic menace of his brilliant fifth album A U R O R A with the remix EP V A R I A N T, which features reworkings by HTRK, Kangding Ray, and Evian Christ. While the collaborators bring their own touches to the proceedings, each track here remains faithful to the dense darkness of Frost's originals. Regis' "Self-Medicating" take on A U R O R A's lead single "Nolan" tears away much of the song's pageantry, but its skeletal clacking is just as ominous in a more understated way.
Ben Frost is generally not the most dance floor-ready of electronic artists, though his most recent work, A U R O R A, diverts some of his hard-edged energy into beat-driven tracks. This five-track EP detaches a few fragments of Frost's latest album and takes them in very different directions. A trio of artists reimagine "Venter" in very disparate ways: Evian Christ keeps the menacing tone of the original but overlays enough drum claps and slow grooves to make it slinky; Dutch E Germ concentrates on spot-welding jagged edges of noise into a pattern that eventually collapses and shudders to a halt; HTRK pursue the future-gothic pulse of deep, muted drum pads and creepy synth tones, keeping things minimal and haunted.
In his review of Ben Frost’s A U R O R A earlier this year, DiS's Philip Bloomfield described it the record as the ‘cathartic eruption’ to his earlier work’s ‘menacing threat of violence’. The possibility of a decent series of remixes coming from A U R O R A, then, seemed narrow at best. How could you rework such dominating original material without it trampling all over the results? When V A R I A N T was announced in October, there was further hint of an overstep in the inclusion of artists so rigidly devoted to genres like trap (hip-hop producer and Kanye-collaborator Evian Christ) and techno (Raster-Noton juggernaut Kangding Ray, Downwards label boss Regis) alongside dosed-up Australians HTRK and Gang Gang Dance’s Timothy DeWit under the Dutch E Germ guise.
Ben Frost struck critical gold with A U R O R A, so no one can really blame him for taking a little victory lap with the V A R I A N T EP. But rather than think of this as the latest release from Ben Frost, you’d be better off treating it as A U R O R A‘s dwarf companion. Benjamin Hedge Olson did rightly dub Frost as “one of the most fascinating experimental musicians in the world”, but the V A R I A N T EP won’t give you that impression because Frost isn’t pulling the strings here.
The Iceland-based sound artist Ben Frost released one of 2014's best records, A U R O R A, so here comes the obligatory remix EP, V A R I A N T. It's frontloaded with three takes on ceremonially pounding highlight "Venter", followed by versions of the equally forceful "Nolan" and the calmer drone piece "No Sorrowing". Frost mines a hard, ferrous seam between multiple genres related by intensity and repetition, and these remixes isolate them in individual strands—noise (Dutch E Germ), ambient (HTRK), dance (Evian Christ and Kangding Ray), and industrial (Regis).
Any debts owed to Frost’s recent and hauntingly sparse album A U R O R A are paid in full during these five equally minimal remixes. And in the 28-minute running time of this handsome-looking EP they also reveal a surprise – that Frost, for all his love of icy minimalism, is actually quite busy in the mix. So when his ideas are spliced up and isolated on Dutch E Germ’s woeful remix of “Venter”, they get lost without Frost’s obscure sonic glue holding things together.