The Flashbulb The FlashbulbArboreal
Digital sparks and romantic mists. Artificial brains in a state of melancholy. Tracy Chapman and Carl Sagan in the same bubble bath. The epic is an element that is gaining increasingly more ground in the post-Dilla republic. Benn Jordan is not satisfied with drawing hip-folk and IDM sonatas according to the taste of new generations of listeners: the guy also wants to touch a nerve, he wants to dig around in our feelings like a q-tip in search of earwax. And the truth is that he has a very effective formula for doing so. Over ten years at the mixing board guarantee the experience in the studio to be able to translate instrumental constructions that are perfectly chiselled, billiard fantasy scores without a single stain of amateurism, and productions with a wealth of details often overwhelm listeners. This has been a constant in his discography, especially in his most recent work under the moniker The Flashbulb – the superb “Soundtrack to a Vacant Life” (2008) is an example of his virtuosity and pleasure in the rhythmic puzzles of the machine room.
But of course technique isn’t everything. You might know the exact weight of the ingredients of a risotto, but if you don’t add a bit of your soul to the recipe, the diners will gobble up your dish with the same amount of feeling as when they gulp down a bag of M&M’s. Emotion. That’s the key. Jordan’s music is pure emotion and “Arboreal” is futuristic romanticism, a crepuscular soundtrack that applies electrodes of nostalgia to the cortex of a cybernetic brain. Rhythmic deconstructions with shadows of Autechre and strings that have you on tenterhooks ( “Undiscovered Colors”); drum’n’bass cultivated in Sheffield and smoked to the rhythm of emo synthesisers, on “Meadow Crush”; experimental jazz and indietronic for Percocet addicts, “We, the Dispelled”; instrumental psychedelics imported from Dillaland, “Draggin Afloat”; and for pure, hardcore post-rock, pay attention to the duo “Springtime Distance” and “Dreaming Renewal”; and then there’s trip hop frozen in liquid nitrogen of “Burning The Black And White”… With ingredients that are familiar from your musical first-aid kit, and points of connection with other futuristic folk-pop artisans like Bibio or Baths, The Flashbulb breathes life into a classically-handsome Frankenstein, without rough stitches in the parietal lobe or rusty screws sticking out of his neck. It’s a gentle, hairy monster that you want to caress, and who arouses great tenderness.
Because what matters most on “Arboreal” is the landscape. The aim is to move: this explains the sombre pianos and epic synthesisers of “Once Weekly”, or the far-off melodies of “Telescopic Memorial”. Only in certain moments of terror does the freak take on a menacing sneer. I’m talking about the far-out “A Raw Understanding” –a punch that Lorn, Mono/Poly and other Gothic hip hop rippers would be proud of– or the threatening layers of sound of “The Trees in Russia” . But that’s it for the songs that come with plasters and disinfectant. The search for emotion and beauty is so accentuated that, at times, in the effort to find epidermal melodies everywhere, Jordan strays dangerously from cold steel electronic to wander into highly-affected folkie meanderings, more usually the terrain of bearded men who may or may not have nits. The acoustic guitars of “The Great Pumpkin Tales”, the exaggerated violins of “Tomorrow Untrodden” –which it has to be said is extremely sappy– and the affected vocal whisperings of “Lines Between Us” tarnish a track list with great moments that will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. It’s time to die. Óscar Broc