Benjamin John Power lucked out on his last name. The electronic drone musician founded Fuck Buttons in 2004 alongside Andrew Hung and they immediately began cultivating their combination of minimal techno and post-rock noise. With such intense music, his last name fit. In between 2009’s Tarot Sport and 2013’s Slow Focus, Power peeled away for some alone time. He shrouded himself in the ambient work of his new solo moniker, Blanck Mass, for 2011’s self-titled, and his name fit him yet again. Power has a hold over his listeners with both the dark techno and minimal electronic releases tied to his name. On his sophomore full-length, Dumb Flesh, Power crafts his strongest material, but he could have used another hand.
Dumb Flesh burps with intense shards from a science lab’s secret project. “Lung”, the album’s most peaceful track, is a soothing take — that is, until you listen closely. Beneath the soothing rolls come the indecipherable human sounds of either a woman’s sexual moans or the confused vocal question marks of a baby. It’s all about how cloaking something makes it more horrifying. For eight-minute closer “Detritus”, that means masking its great beast in gritty noise drone for several minutes before unveiling an actual beat. Suddenly, it changes completely. The track has morose synth pumped into its veins, shifting the focus into something more lucid and unnevering, haunted by the cloudy vocals of Rob Lowe of Om. It’s all surprisingly accessible. Even the noise punk groove of “Cruel Sport” is crafted for the club.
Blanck Mass appeared to be Power’s chance to escape the twisted electronics of Fuck Buttons, but on Dumb Flesh he returns to it. The glitering slosh of “Hellion Earth” or the unconscious morphine of “Chernobyl” in years past were Power executing his ambient side. He meticulously shaped the point at which the emotional paths converge on his songs, an effort many ambient acts fail to focus on, under the impression that a held note can speak for itself, finding a purpose amidst subtleties. That ambient solo debut was so touching that the spiritual “Sundowner” made a surprising appearance at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Dumb Flesh could have its place in the next Olympics, but only in two ways: if the stadium collapses in a tragic, perverse image of beauty, or if all its players replace motivational music with a private score of perseverance through unrelenting pain, the true soundtrack of their body.
He’s unapologetic about changing paths. “Dead Format”, an inky, melodic roil of noise, is a mirror image of Fuck Buttons’ past. It smashes open like the distorted lo-fi crackle of the final boss round in an NES videogame, blasting with the heat and burnt color of Crystal Castles’ (III). It sounds like the warped remains of a sour John Carpenter track, which, given the two are now labelmates, may not be that far of a stretch.
The album is vivid between shadows, pulsing with the diseased blood of a body slowly losing its motivation to carry on. Had Power pushed himself to soundtrack this deconstruction through the minimalist nature of his quiet work, though, Dumb Flesh could have been fully realized. There’s room for cuts within the chillwave “Atrophies” and late era-Mogwai “Double Cross”. Perhaps it’s because he began recording in Fuck Buttons’ studio or because the windowless attic he retreated to afterwards cut off his view of nature and outerspace. It holds together well within the confines of its double-LP release, but had Power tackled these with his bandmate, he might’ve been able to cover more ground.
Essential Tracks: “Dead Format”, “Detritus”, and “Cruel Sport”