Ben Frost: V A R I A N T EP

The Iceland-based sound artist Ben Frost released one of 2014’s best records, A U R O R A, so here comes the obligatory remix EP, V A R I A N T. It’s frontloaded with three takes on ceremonially pounding highlight “Venter”, followed by versions of the equally forceful “Nolan” and the calmer drone piece “No Sorrowing”. Frost mines a hard, ferrous seam between multiple genres related by intensity and repetition, and these remixes isolate them in individual strands—noise (Dutch E Germ), ambient (HTRK), dance (Evian Christ and Kangding Ray), and industrial (Regis). This results in diluted tracks that either pale in comparison to the brawny originals, seem superficially connected to them, or both. It would be a tall order to expect them to rival Frost’s raw power, but these remixes don’t unearth much fascinating stuff, and the EP turns out (mostly) competent but wan.

Evian Christ turns “Venter” into regal, explosive EDM, coring its melody down to a nervy screw and cladding it in huge basses and time-bomb drum programming. Though it’s the most immediate track here, this pro forma banger is neither particularly inspired nor particularly Frost—it really could be any Evian Christ song. A less splashy but more satisfying composition is Raster-Norton artist Kangding Ray’s “No Sorrowing”. On the original, a lone subfrequency drop in acres of long tones suggested walking over crystalline plains and suddenly falling into a pit; Ray retrofits it as rough-textured house music, like Frost as Jon Hopkins. Downwards label proprietor Regis gives “Nolan” a solid, somewhat similar treatment, but more gnarled and industrial.

And then there’s the Dutch E Germ remix of “Venter”, which is actually pretty bad. Dominated by shrapnel-like blasts of noise and an annoying squeak like a rusty wheel, it’s repetitive and grating without being transfixing. A desultory, imbalanced structure changes without going anywhere in particular. Jagged tone pileups and irritating shrills are just the kind of harshness-for-its-own-sake that Frost eschews in favor of clear, commanding compositions. HTRK’s version follows it and comes as a relief. You won’t be surprised to hear that the Australian down-tempo duo turns it into chill-out music, reducing its tribal drums to a hollow knock and then blowing thin currents of atmosphere around a lone fillip of bass. It’s a little tedious, though it’s sensual and hypnotic if you let yourself flow into it.   

The most fundamental, buried part of Frost’s aesthetic is classical minimalism, a strand that is left undisturbed by these surface-level retrofits. A remix EP that exhumed it could provide actual interest and value, but it doesn’t seem like that much thought went into this—it’s par for the course that instead of creating a new, coherent collection, you send out stems to some people you like and hope for the best. These kinds of remixes can make for great bonus tracks and promotional freebies—and hey, if someone wants to pay for them as a collection, more power to Frost. But if you need another reminder of the pointlessness of the remix EP as a commercial artifact, here it is.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork