Album review: Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux (Track by Track)

The thing about using a formula in a recurring feature, like, say, reviewing records track-by-track, is that you don’t want to stick too fervently to a convention you’ve created for yourself. Similarly, you can’t deviate from the absolute rules of the named medium or it loses all sense. If we don’t name the tracks in order in the track-by-track review, nothing will make sense anymore. Reality will broadly invert. Cats and dogs will become eligible for public office, cloning moths will become fashionable, and fireworks will only be available in mauve.

Nobody wants any of this, and sometimes we’ll go to subtle yet cerebral extremes to make records we like fit the format. This becomes a bit of a scuffle between linguistic brevity and the word count whenever it’s a double album.

Anyway, Blanck Mass, always intriguing, has released an album with two tracks. Two stupendous tracks to which no amount of padding the intro with lexicographical vomit could do justice. Therefore, I’ve decided to save everyone the torture and just name the sections of the two tracks with the worlds and landscapes they aurally paint.

Blanck Mass is known as Benjamin John Power on his driving licence and was 50% of influential Bristol duo, Fuck Buttons. His particular brand of ambient dronetronica, when that’s what he’s doing, can shift from dreamlike to nightmarish, skipping most of the shades between. At its beating heart, In Ferneaux uses over 10 years’ worth of field recordings gathered by Power and regurgitates these into a flowing, narrative sonic journey which will take you from oceanic realms of despair to gentle hillocks of optimism.

In Ferneaux kicks off with ‘Phase One’ and its unsettling, syncopated synth loops are reminiscent of Plastikman’s Consumed-era adventures in intersecting rhythmic tides. The drums (and everything else) appear after over four minutes, completing the first six minutes – now called ‘Dustbin Kicking At Dawn’.

An extended exploration of overlapping harmonics and atmospheric sampling forms the intro to ‘Sunrise on a Planet of Milk’ before merging into what is now called ‘Erudite Bee Rabble-Rouses Through a Didgeridoo’. The synth pads surge and retreat over samples which could be anything from waves lapping on a beach to a school canteen. The effect is both dazzling and bewildering. Unsettling, yet hopeful and massively dependent on what your other four major senses absorb at the same time.

‘Phase Two’ presents itself in its opening minutes much the same way a wee guy hanging about outside a train station would approach someone looking to blag a smoke. In a starting section that I’m calling ‘Moments of Clarity’, a cacophonous intro fades away into samples of people recounting positive spins on lives lived hard. The journey from these first-person interactions into a relative sea of dreaming consciousness is more subtle than it has any right to be.

The next, self-explanatory, ahem, new track is called ‘The Agony Machine’. ‘The Agony Machine’ gives way to ‘Skip The Harmonium Clouds’ which, in turn, gives way to ‘Noisy Pagan Thursday Night In’. ‘NPTNI’ doesn’t overstay its welcome, instead allowing its organic but aggressive drums to recede into ‘Trapped Inside an Old Television’ which, in turn, moves almost seamlessly into anthemic closing track, ‘The Feeling of Achievement After Doing Something Previously Put Off Through Sheer Procrastination’.

The two separate phases, rather than one being a road out and one a figurative journey back, are more like a unified piece, undulating yet indivisible. Much like other Blanck Mass recordings, there are moments of near perfect harmonic tranquillity battling it out with moments of prolonged, multi-wavelength assaults. What is different this time around is that the interspersal of found and manipulated sounds is so much more prominent, which gives In Ferneaux a more focused sense of humanity than its predecessors.

In Ferneaux is out now on Sacred Bones Records

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