Friday, 12 October 2012

The Flashbulb - Hardscrabble

If there is one thing I have learned as an avid collector of all things music, it’s that I categorise too much. I painstakingly maintain a music collection which has been heavily filed and organized. dubstep with dubstep, ambient with ambient, indie with indie and so on. This is a system that works well for me but it shows its shortcomings with artists who show a complete disregard for staying within the defined borders of a musical genre. The Flashbulb is one of those artists.

The Flashbulb (A.K.A. Benn Jordan) takes petty things like genres, gives them the evil eye, crumbles them up and will continue to throw them into the garbage can never to be seen again. He has been doing this for years and his blend of glitch and IDM with jazzy melodies and structures has earned him a rightful place as electronic music royalty. And he does so with an unstoppable enthusiasm, releasing album after album with remarkable speed. Does that harm the quality of the music? Not in the slightest. One might even argue that “Opus at the End of Everything”, an album he released earlier this year contains some of his most thought out and themed songs to date. And now, a mere nine months later, he is on the verge of releasing his next effort “Hardscrabble” on the 23rd of October. And we’ve got our hands on an early copy.

Another thing I have learned along the way: I like dynamics in music. I like complex rhythms and unconventional melodies and even though Opus was full of memorable moments and remains an album that is loved by his fans, including myself, it missed the structured chaos of The Flashbulb’s earlier works. Hardscrabble sees a swift return to the roots of The Flashbulb without abandoning his recent love for complex melodies and sees him adding even more sounds to the mix. The album opener “Back to the Yards” is a chaotic and dynamic snapshot of dubstep if dubstep had even the slightest clue how to even be dynamic. The thing with Benn Jordan is that he always manages to peak your interest when it comes to things like sound and rhythm, even in songs where there’s no emotion to be found and the music sounds quite detached and chaotic. “The Bridgeport Run”  and “I Saw the Sky” mix up the evocative and emotive sound we’ve come to know from his previous releases. The abrasiveness from his even earlier work and are filled to the brim with interesting textures and immersive sounds. 

I think the keyword here is immersion. The album really tries its hardest to take you in, with varying success. As dynamic as this album is, it falls short as a cohesive product. Something that Opus did superbly. But this could just be the experience I’m having and me expecting another orchestrated and evocative release like Opus. But does that mean that this album has lost any of the musical brilliance and introspective feel of “Soundtrack to a Vacant Life” and Opus at the End of Everything? In one word: No. It’s just a different album with a different concept and as a result of that it has a different feel. It doesn’t tug your heartstrings like Opus did, but it sonically is a more interesting album. The disc contains plenty of moments that make your ears perk up, “One Melted Birthday Cake” being a prime example of this. And from the dissonance of analogue-heavy “Last Bank” and the 303 goodness of “Three Hundred CC”, to the emotional “Skype Piano” hear that you’re dealing with someone who knows how to craft a good album and I’m sure this will be a delightful album to hear him perform live. Fans of the older albums will love this return to the IDM track of old, and fans of the newer albums will love the melodies and (amazing!) guitar work.

Ultimately, Benn manages to create something that could easily match his previous work, whilst still bringing new material to the table without forcing it.  And that´s always a good thing, I expected no less from someone as talented as Benn Jordan.