With its compelling combination of swirling, psychedelicatmospherics and subtle, entrancing beats, London duo FuckButtons‘ 2009 album Tarot Sport was one of the most accomplishedand distinctive electronic records of recent years. A slow burningexperience that drips gradually but insidiously into the listener’sconsciousness, it stands out by drawing heavily on the experimental,sometimes abrasive sounds of post-rock pioneers like Mogwai –Benjamin John Power, one half of the Buttons, is a longstanding fan ofthe Scots – as well as more conventional dance floor and ambientinfluences.
Blanck Mass sees Power going it alone for the first time and theend result is a self-titled debut album that’s both similar anddifferent to Tarot Sport. The cinematic, epic scale and effective useof sound manipulations such as echo and distortion that made such animportant contribution to the latter record are still very much inplace on Blanck Mass, but Power’s solo work also takes on its ownindividual direction by slowing down the pace to glacial anddispensing with the beats entirely.
Essentially what we have here is the soundtrack to a sciencefiction movie in waiting, with The BBC Radiophonic Workshop andVangelis‘s Blade Runner score (although mercifully not thesaxophones) obvious inspirations as well as the aforementionedpost-rock scene. As long, sweeping tracks like Land Disasters andWhat You Know (a whopping 13 and a half minutes) glide serenely by,you can almost see the dramatic vistas of vast lunar landscapes andhuge space ships drifting majestically towards undiscovered universesappearing before your eyes.
While Tarot Sport’s compositions often start off as understated andminimal before the addition of layer upon layer of noise steadilyincreases the tempo, Blanck Mass generally stays in the slow lanethroughout all 10 tracks. Opener Sifted Gold sets the tone with itsshimmering, otherworldly swathes of synthesiser and soft, twinklingalien burbles before it segues almost seamlessly into Sundowner, whichsounds pretty much the same. The mood alters palpably on Chernobyl,an appropriately stately, melancholy piece that movingly evokesmemories of the desolation this terrible tragedy caused, but Raw Dealslips back into blissful but rather shapeless meandering; the kind ofmusic one typically finds on meditation CDs.
This is the pattern throughout Blanck Mass – it’s all very gracefuland mellow, but only occasionally does something more dynamic andinteresting happen to jolt the listener from a state of beatifictorpor. The stark, monumental opening chords of Land Disasters are onesuch example; the disjointed whale song vibes on Fuckers another. Thealbum ends rather like it began with closer Weakly Flier’s elegantsonic vapours wafting gently through the air, accompanied by thedistant murmurings of birdsong and trickling water.
Sat alone late at night with headphones on and looking out into astar-filled sky beyond, there’s no doubt listening to Blanck Masscould be an enriching, almost transcendental journey. It’s apainstakingly constructed cathedral of sound, a record requiringcomplete attention and concentration in order to make the most of itscharms; otherwise, it will simply float by inoffensively in thebackground. What it fundamentally lacks is the underlying rhythmicsensibility that adds an extra dimension to Fuck Buttons and givesthem the scope to develop a track from simple beginnings to aeuphoric, cacophonous conclusion. By stripping this ingredient away,Power is left with something that’s often beautiful but also strangelystatic.