At some point during the second song of Ben Frost’s A U R O R A show, I look over to my wife – who on this occasion ignored her pop-indulgent instincts to join me for this event. All I can see is the white of her eyes as she rolled them to the sky in way of a protest to what she referred to later as, “obnoxious music”. It was a stark contrast to the guy in the puffy shirt and handle bar moustache busting a move to my opposite side. It was a strange scene since the wall of sound produced by Mr. Frost and his colleagues had the subtleties of an elephant in a tutu and the result was nothing short of exactly an obnoxious cochlear assault. It would’ve had all the makings of an improvised delivery if it had not been for the structured manner the tracks were put together. The drumming at the heart of this clamour was the show’s saving grace, but as a whole there was none of the intricate delicacies that made By The Throat or his work for Richard Mosse’s The Enclave so interesting. It might actually be the influence of the latter and the fact that A U R O R A was mainly conceived while Frost was in the Congo that made the music so confrontational to the unsuspecting listener.
My enthusiasm for A U R O R A, the album, subsequently faltered after this show and when I finally got the opportunity to listen to the album a few days later I was anything but eager. That was until I recalled Venter, the fist release off the album, and I remembered it as a more inhibited version of what I encountered at the live show. I had to listen to it, and so with anxious trepidation, I clicked the play icon… Lo and behold, the cacophony of the live show was restrained to something far more palatable. Yes, it was still built from the noise foundations of the live show, but the dynamic contrasts varied to greater degree throughout the album. During Nolan the noisy synths float in out while the drummer beats out a steady pulse building up through its various phases and sets the mood for the rest of the album almost immediately. It marks a juxtaposition that was sorely absent from the live show. The drums too, are set further back in the mix but still very much at the centre of each composition – it was a bit inevitable that they would be omnipotent during the live performance. Greg Fox (ex-lithurgy) and Thor Harris (Swans), do a remarkable job on percussion through much of the album, especially on Secant and Venter. The latter widens the dichotomy in the dynamics further when the variations on rhythmic percussive motif drive the track along through different textures only to arrive at its most raucous point, like a bear crashing a picnic.
It’s the theme of the whole album and even in its larger context as different tracks melt into respective ambient and noise elements. The microtonal modulation of No Sorrowing, with its intricate detail in the upper frequencies is the Yin to, the glow stick referencing, Diphenyl Oxalate’s Yan. It’s this characteristic that keeps the listener tuned-in and makes the inevitable assault on your cochlear worth the while if you are listener of the louder persuasion. The effect that it produces is one of anxious excitement while you wait patiently through an ambient part until you are confronted with an over-enthusiastic drummer or a saw-tooth synth peppered with white noise! At times, I did feel a tinge of fatigue from this synth palette and yearned for something with a little more than resonance feeding back on itself, but then I remembered the origins of the album, and I wondered if this might not be a result of exactly that.
Even if the concept and idea were important to Ben Frost’s working methods, it would still be somewhat irrelevant to the album’s execution. The contrasting aesthetic, like that of my unimpressed wife and the dancing pirate, is what makes A U R O R A intriguing. It’s not going to be the greatest Ben Frost album, and the live show is definitely left wanting, but it is still worth listening to. The dancing pirate will back me up here, I’m sure, even if my wife’s eyes are still inspecting the back of her head.