Benjamin John Power’s first official recorded venture away from his fellow Fuck Button Andrew Hung, under the name Blanck Mass, felt instantly familiar, but a particular absence nagged in places. “Raw Deal” was the most glaring example on Blanck Mass’ 2011 self-titled debut: it features a looping lamp-lit build-up that could have come straight off of Street Horrrsing or Tarot Sport, were it not for the croaking frogs and other nighttime-in-the-swamp sounds. (For better or for worse, those come back with a vengeance a few tracks later on “Icke’s Struggle”). Yet after nearly ten minutes, a beat never drops, and “Raw Deal” slowly dissolves. It is not the case for all of the ten songs on Blanck Mass, but here and there it felt like Power had chopped the second, riotous half off of a handful of Fuck Buttons songs, leaving the ambient opening sections to fend for themselves. The results could be oddly reflective of being the product of half of that duo.
That quality, however, did not leave Blanck Mass feeling like half of an album. The glistening euphoria of “Sundowner” more than earned that song’s placement — along with not one but two Fuck Buttons songs, “Surf Solar” and “Olympians” — in the unforgettable opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, directed by Danny Boyle and Underworld. The penultimate “What You Know” was 14 minutes of undulating gaseous planetoid in the album’s solar system, out of orbit, adrift toward far galaxial reaches. It was contained only — and barely, as most all of the album was — by its own timespan. A more simplified way to put it: Blanck Mass was head music, and Dumb Flesh, Powers’ second album as Blanck Mass, is body music.
On Dumb Flesh, containment is a central theme. The title alludes to how humans are limited by the imperfections of their bodies. For all the supposed evolutionary advancements and achievements of the human mind over civilization’s lifespan, there are more ways to get cancer than ever before, and death still awaits us all – at least until Google figures out how to upload our consciousness to the cloud.
Powers puts the body at the forefront of his audience’s mind is by suggesting that they move it. In a U-turn from the cerebral escape of Blanck Mass, Dumb Flesh stretches tautly over gnarled techno bones.
Like a shiny new penny left submerged long enough in Coca-Cola, the elements of dance music corrode here in Power’s hands. Like Fuck Buttons, Dumb Flesh doesn’t deconstruct electronica, but it does repurpose it, skeptically questioning its motives. Unlike Fuck Buttons, Power isn’t interested in creating immovable monoliths on Dumb Flesh. The cyborg groan of the opening “Loam” is about as close to Blanck Mass as the album gets, though its surface is craggier. From there, first single “Dead Format” erupts without notice, throbbing fully formed and foreboding, as if the second half of all those tracks from the debut had been found after all. “No Lite” makes a similar first impression, throwing the listener into a cacophonous whirl. Instead of raging on, it simmers down to a few remaining wisps, then finds its slalom and builds back up in a completely different form.
Dumb Flesh doesn’t deplete its energy always seeking to overwhelm. The core of the album is held steady by “Atrophies” and “Cruel Sport”, which almost meld together to form a steadily propulsive epic that does a lot to close the considerable gap between, say, the Chemical Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, without being whatever exactly witch house is or was supposed to be. Indeed, “Double Cross” is a compactly thunderous rave up with an edge of bleak abandon, but the darker side of Dumb Flesh — which always looms but never quite pushes to the fore, even through and past the scalding static melt intro of “Detritus” — doesn’t come from a place of goth or melodrama. Power’s vision here is grounded in recognizing the little everyday tragedies inherent in the process of our mortality, acknowledging the futility of escaping them, and then trying to do so all the same anyway.