Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux [Sacred Bones]

Ever since Benjamin John Power’s duo with Andrew Hung – Fuck Buttons – burst onto the scene equipped with a moniker almost guaranteed to deny them radio play, it’s been clear that this is not an artist prepared to sand off his rougher edges for mass consumption. Even the use of a trio of tracks in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was strictly on the duo’s own terms.

Taking all this into account, no one was expecting Abbey Road, but even after solo albums hidden inside packaging displaying a snarling creature and a rotting apple respectively, the soot stained and blown out In Ferneaux might be his most challenging work yet. 

Assembled from sound recordings compiled over a decade of global travel and divided into two halves of roughly 20 minutes apiece entitled ‘Phase I’ and ‘Phase II’, it’s a record that splits the difference between ambient noise, grinding industrial and synth maximalism. 

The opening minutes of ‘Phase I; play bait-and-switch with high gloss synths that bring to mind Rustie or the more club ready moments from the PC Music crew, driven by a relentless restlessness and a series of frequencies crammed so close together that your ears start to squeak, but by the quarter hour mark the frenzy has peaked and faded, displaced by forest sounds, gentle rattles and distant conversation.  

Sadly, the very nature of In Ferneaux’s unwillingness to compromise at times makes it a hard to record to describe, never mind champion, with the most thrilling moments often reduced to “about 14 minutes into side one”. It’s entirely possible that Power is delighted at this obtuseness but there’s something to be said for not setting your barriers to entry too high. 

After some brief snatches of conversation with a drunken street preacher, a solid three minutes of ‘Phase II’ is flickering static from which emerges a series of sustained notes like rays of sunshine after a storm, while at around the ten-minute mark Power summons the kind of music that could play as a camera sweeps across the Serengeti, rapidly followed by the sound of the same herd of wildebeest meeting a gruesome industrial accident. Then with some brief piano, the sound of water sloshing and a final brief expletive it draws to a close. It’s wonderfully sprawling, if nothing else, owing a debt to the weirder moments of Tangerine Dream and Aphex Twin. 

Ultimately, what In Ferneaux represents is the anarchic spirit of an artist who refuses to settle down and one whose palette to draw from is wider than most. It can be a challenging listen but it’s one whose distinctive creative sensibility often takes the listener down the road less travelled and is all the better for it. 

On February 26, Mogwai, the Scottish alternative lifers on the label Blanck Mass released his first solo record, got their first number one album, proving that once in a while, decades of creativity get their just reward. In Ferneaux feels unlikely to do the same but who knows what the chart toppers of 2045 will sound like. 

Words: Max Sefton

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