2009’s By the Throat saw BEN FROST exploring the uneasy pairing of warped bioacoustics and failing machinery (‘O God Protect Me’s bleak heart-rate monitor, in particular, comes to mind) while 2011’s SÓLARIS collaboration with Bedroom Community composer Daníel Bjarnason – a re-scoring of Tarkovsky’s seminal sci-fi epic of the same name – questioned the nature of the simulacral by distorting audio through computer simulation software. It seems that A U R O R A, then, is the logical outcome of such efforts: a luminous record that walks the line between brutally twisted machinery and warped rave bliss.
Following his collaboration with visual artist Richard Mosse in The Enclave, much of A U R O R A was penned during Frost’s travels in the Eastern DR Congo. The limited musical resources at hand are reflected in the synthetic tonal palette: swirling synths, stuttering noise, alien timbres and rusting metal percussion. All of which adds up to a dense atmosphere of decayed futurism. Because of this, the work can be slightly jarring at times. Gone are the processed guitars and prepared pianos so heavily featured on previous releases.
‘Flex’ initiates the album with a Blade Runner-esque synth drone while (what sounds like) a jet engine whirs into motion. The entire track could well turn out to be a recording of the Large Hadron Collider. That is the nature of A U R O R A; sounds are plastic, malleable and inorganic.
Feeling like a broadcast from the edges of a post-human civilization, A U R O R A sends synths buzzing and stuttering through the ether. ‘Nolan’ begins taking the form of a broken dance track in a typical Frost whirr of swelling rhythms and contrasting textures, before ultimately collapsing into a decayed trance melody played over a near dancehall rhythm.
‘Venter’ bristles with subdued machine intensity, while Swans’ Thor Harris provides a much needed organic quality through his brute metallophone clanging. Additional contributions from Greg Fox and Shahzad Ismaily demonstrate that, beneath the record’s plastic and mechanized veneer, lies the same snarling, animalistic force of By the Throat.
Throughout the work, we find Frost treading the fine line between machine and human, danger and euphoria. A U R O R A is a bold step in a new musical direction. Whilst puzzling at times, Frost has ultimately released himself from the shackles of the familiar and created a daring piece of work that is at once both luminously cerebral and garishly visceral.
A U R O R A is released on May 26th via Mute.