Published Mar 20, 2018As on "Threshold of Faith" (both on The Centre Cannot Hold and the EP that preceded it), "Self Portrait in Ultramarine" opens with a nodding declaration from Steve Albini that "You are rolling," this time followed by a sneeze and a joke about how that's his "favourite part."
It's a reminder to the listener that, unlike previous Ben Frost records, this material was recorded live-off-the-floor, but it also serves as an expository glimpse into the lightness that permeated those sessions. Much has been made of the fact that Frost recorded The Centre Cannot Hold and its related material at Albini's Electric Audio recording facility in Chicago in the wake of Donald Trump's campaign for president, and while it's true that the results — as some of the titles on this EP suggest — are often scouring the deep bleakness of the socio-political landscape, there are passing glimpses of pacific beauty, too.
After this rare bit of studio minutiae, the piece hits the ground running on a whirling string attack, as if plunging 20,000 leagues under the sea in a race against a gauntlet of depth charges set throughout a razor-toothed, subaquatic cave. Each passing detonation sets loose a new stalactite with a harrowing seismic groan, but a series of droning choral-like bursts shine through the fray like shards of light through rippling stained glass. Deep into the action, the piece spins out into a scene of beatific slow motion, and the light outweighs the dark.
There's a similar moment on the EP's title track, and Frost recycles the idea again on "An Empty Vessel to Flood," where he lands on one of these atmospheric eddies after the onslaught of stabbing, pixelated violence that dominates the track's first three minutes.
In the context of the EP, Frost's preference for these moments of contrast provides an overarching tonal continuity, but the inherent lack of structural variety in the new offerings here builds the overall experience into one that's less essential to The Centre Cannot Hold than a collection of experiments rescued from its cutting room floor. (Mute)