Ben Frost

By the Throat

(Bedroom Community; 2009)

By Conrad Amenta | 4 November 2009

Shame I couldn’t get this review finished in time for CMG’s decidedly un-spooky Halloween update, because Australian-born/Iceland-dwelling artist Ben Frost’s By the Throat is, along with Lokai, some of the most dread-inducing music you’ll hear in 2009. Listen to it through good headphones and the deep, bassy thrums, and, um, real wolf noises of which it’s comprised crackle with a harmonious, stark fidelity. It’s not only an addition to 2009’s unassailably fantastic class of ambient music, but in a way is unique to that class for the menace with which it’s threaded. Also, there’s a two-part song dedicated to one of the Ghostbusters.

There’s a semi-industrial bent to By the Throat, as if it’s emerged from the sonic folds of The Fragile‘s (1999) mosaic moments, or was the product of a Black Metal artist with an eye for ironic beauty. Its edges are jagged, but the album throughout is underwritten with pulsing melody—think Hecker’s An Imaginary Country subjected to a greater frequency of dips and swells, seemingly designed to be played in 5.1 surround sound as you watch something startling but gracefully choreographed in HD. It’s visceral, bracing stuff, summed by “Killshot” and “The Carpathians” and their totalizing (literal) growl.

Frost’s biography mentions a debt to David Lynch, and it’s obvious that By the Throat is tapping into the same sense of foreboding, but drawing a line between the two is too easy. Frost’s music undeniably lends itself to a cinematic aesthetic—it’s well paced and dynamic, as far as ambient music goes—but it lacks Lynch’s ability to truly unsettle, to play the common up until it becomes other; to bend just slightly. The name drop is especially strange considering the exquisite and strategic musical contrasts that Lynch renders in his films. By the Throat prefers to aim, well, for the throat; there is nothing as graceful as the opening montage to Twin Peaks, and thus nothing quite as alien. There’s little subtlety or nuance to the album’s minimalism. Like the animals on its cover, the album seems to be all efficiency of scope and method.

Which makes it “just” a sleekly economized and consistently enjoyable record of sound collage. Where Mountains, Emeralds, New Clouds, Hecker, and Basinksi still work with the enmeshing of miniscule and epic beauty, Frost is presenting a flip side of the same elemental musicality. It may sound like a simple inversion, but it’s an in version nonetheless, and a severe one. By the Throat is uncomplicated about, and uncomplicatedly successful in achieving, its goals.