Blanck Mass ‘Dumb Flesh’ (Sacred Bones)

Fuck Buttons thinker muses on human flaws in fervid fashion

“The bow cannot always stand bent, nor can human frailty subsist without some lawful recreation.”

Who knows what Cervantes had in mind there, when he was conjecturing on our legitimate need to enjoy ourselves some 400 years back? But if he was musing on the raw excitement of some backstreet Castilian flamenco that he’d just enjoyed in all its wailing, transcendent honesty, then some of our post-millennial nocturnal reveries may not seem as distant from his experiences as one might initially imagine. For anybody witnessing a live performance of Benjamin John Power’s latest solo outing would quite probably encounter a similar level of transportive fire.

This is Power’s second album away from Fuck Buttons: he’s been working under the Blanck Mass moniker since 2010’s self-titled debut, which was unexpectedly accessible and elegant. Its second track, ‘Sundowner’, even made it onto the London Olympics opening ceremony playlist.

‘Dumb Flesh’, however, is an entirely different event. Breathtaking at times, both in terms of its conceptual ambition as well as its fully realised musical intensity, it’s certainly no piece for the cocktail hour. And nor is its subject matter: a well thought-through comment on the flaws of the imperfect human form. Many of the album’s reference points – stadium rave, techno and experimental noise – won’t surprise anyone who’s been following Power and his Fuck Buttons partner Andrew Hung for any length of time, but the slant taken in this instance does take some tuning into, even for the initiated. This is a good thing.

The dark foreboding of opener ‘Loam’ manages to create a thrilling air of anticipation, despite its near oppressive weight and sense of approaching menace, and you’re never disappointed by the unpredictable bravura of what follows. Deft mood and tempo shifts are impeccably timed throughout. From the immersive, trance-like exultations of ‘No Life’ to the light, euphoric energy of ‘Atrophies’, with its rudimentary early techno handclaps, the breadth of the sound palette on show here is impressive. So too is the album’s ability to cleverly shift balance. There’s the push of deeper introspection but also – vitally – the pull of adrenalin-fuelled thrills. ‘Cruel Sport’ grabs you with excoriating squawks and bleeps, and then the bombastic, insistent drum takes you on what becomes quite a fun flight away from, perhaps, the slavering forces of genetic inevitability. And straight towards the flashing lights of the dancefloor.

‘Dumb Flesh’ is never less than an expansive body of work, and it’s also never less than utterly electronic. This is man-machine music. It takes on the dark matter and also finds light. The standout track, ‘Dead Format’, an astonishingly intense piece, demonstrates this most clearly. If the extremes here were concentrated any further, then they could easily be rendered unlistenable – dangerous even.

As it stands though, it’s an exhilarating tour de force; pulsatingly danceable, otherworldly and right on-the-point. One step further and you’re over the precipice. Perhaps into the abyss that Power feels we’ll all one day face. But if this is what comes beforehand, then we’ve nothing to fear.

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