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The Australian-born, currently Iceland-based recording artist Ben Frost wrote most of his latest album A U R O R A while in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which could explain a thing or two.
Frost was collaborating with the Irish artist Richard Mosse, whose video installation The Enclave presents shots of Congolese soldiers among magenta-tinted vegetation, slamming together aggression with an odd artificiality.
Speaking as if A U R O R A was a headstrong individual rather than merely a piece of music, in an interview with The Quietus, Frost said about making the album, “It became quite a struggle actually to make it be anything else other than what it was demanding to be itself.”
Although its sounds are often fiercely synthetic, the album writhes with a cybernetic biology, as if its sounds are struggling to get out of a straitjacket, like on the selectively distorted “Sola Fide.”
A U R O R A can pull the listener into many directions, with genre-warping and disparate combinations of elements. There are minimalist parts that are anything but soothing; there are noise channels used as foggy landscapes. Electronic beats resist the hint of temptation for dancers to let their bodies take over.
It’s simultaneously caustic and melodic, with organic bits such as drums sliced and diced into barely recognizable piles and huge sounds that are tamed and controlled, like one that sounds like an airplane taking off.
Frost gets helps from collaborators including percussionist Thor Harris (of Swans and Shearwater) whose occasional chimes provide gravity to the situation, Greg Fox (formerly of Liturgy) and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily.
The album works well as a whole, being compelling for its duration with engaging tracks that sometimes bring the brutal primitivity of Swans to mind, combined with sinister ’80s-style synths that disintegrate into John Carpenter horror film soundtracks with an otherworldly hostility.
Don’t be fooled by the title of the new album from the British group The Soundcarriers, Entropicalia, which is an apparent portmanteau of the words “entropy” and “Tropicalia,” the Brazilian cultural and pop/rock-music movement.
Entropy is a measure of disorder, and while there are certain spaces where the musicians stretch their arms, there’s always a sense of order, with each track being meticulously etched and sculpted. There’s also no blatant Brazilian influence here, and rather, bands from decades past such as the avant-psych group The United States of America, the sunny, wide-eyed pop band The Free Design or even the British folk-rock group Pentangle come to mind.
If anything, Entropicalia sounds like it could have been the soundtrack to a late-’60s or early-’70s British mystery film.
The Soundcarriers seems to reside in the lineage of acts such as Stereolab or Broadcast, who demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of space-age pop/rock, Krautrock, library music and other such labels that music nerds cream over, and who have the studio expertise to craft pristine articulations of reverent visions. Drum parts reverberate spotlessly, while faceless male/female vocals harmonize sans egos.
Acoustic piano notes chime among synth swooshes and flute flutterings, and nods to psychedelic rock and Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit (in particular, the “Halleluhwah” rhythm) offer sly winks. The album’s final 12-minute track, “This Is Normal,” features actor Elijah Wood providing spoken-word instructions, such as “Begin by making the necessary changes. Attune yourself to these” and “Do not open the bottles,” while an expansive jazz-funk backing track, with Hammond B3 organ stylings, unfurls.
It’s beautiful ear candy that has no qualms about its crate-digging resurrection of decades-old aesthetics, executed clearly with affection but also with a sense of conviviality, breathing life with minty fresh breath into the lungs of nostalgia to transcend mere tropes.