[24 January 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Most people, I imagine, tend to associate the word “ambient” with a form of soulless pretentiousness that only high-brow music snobs are able to relate to. It’s the sort of fad that fills gallery and performance spaces, kind of like elevator music for the erudite—it is “curated”, “acquired”, and all sorts of things that the more generic music aficionado simply couldn’t dream of understanding. The Australian-born/Iceland-based Ben Frost is one musician who fills said spaces, but on the contrary, manages to denounce such notions.
Sitting somewhere between classical composer Arvo Pärt and Nine Inch Nails, Frost willfully crosses genres, often defying classification with his sophomore release, By the Throat. As the title suggests, Frost’s aural creations are assaultive, boasting an intense musicality that is beguiling, if at times a little invasive. This isn’t something to play before bed. Rather, it’s the soundtrack to an eerie thriller, or horror—puncturing one’s synapses, it will have you sneaking paranoid peeks over your shoulder, well after the music has stopped.
What makes Frost’s music special is his ability to flit between the traditional language of harmony, melody, and instrumentation, such as the strings used on “Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes”, and his well-balanced desire to experiment with musique concrete, which weaves in non-musical sounds. For instance, the opening track, “Killshot”, finds wolves snarling and lions groaning, while “Through the Roof of Your Mouth” boasts microscopic clicks alongside the whirs of Killer Whales on the hunt. Equally breathtaking (literally), is the unmistakable sound of a human gasping for breath in “Hibakusja”, which manages to be both somber and grandiose.
The tense atmosphere of doom is at times averted with numbers like “Peter Venkman, Pt. I”. Here, ethereal strokes are anchored by a funneling cello, which brings the mood a mystical dreaminess, before Frost profoundly kicks back into tremulous shape with the fretful “Peter Venkman, Pt. II”. Frost’s flagrant imagination powers on through right to the end of the album, where a set of bagpipes can be heard during an epic finale.
Certainly, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But for those looking for mystical sources of inspiration, or an unsettling soundtrack, then By the Throat might be just the trick. Bustling with a vibrant, and quirky charm, it manages to cast a spell that teleports the listener from the comfort of the indoor to a place that isn’t just spooky, but that is outright terrifying.