Monday, June 14, 2010
On Soundtrack To a Vacant Life, Benn Jordan used his voice on three of its last.fm-destroying 31 tracks. And when he did sing, it was soft, timid, and insecure, perfectly capturing the heartache and nostalgia captured by that album. On Arboreal, Jordan's voice is present on five or six tracks, and on a few it comes triumphantly to the forefront to rob the guitar and piano of their melodic leadership and bring the song to a focal point.
I say this because, like on Soundtrack, Benn Jordan's voice is once again a function for the album as a whole: loud, abrupt, and sometimes abrasive, but never less than fantastic. Arboreal opens with the enchanting "Undiscovered Colors", but leaps into a full five tracks of loud, melodic electronica that doesn't let up until "Dread, Etched in Snow", a signature Flashbulb piano track. And from there, The Flashbulb continues with the same uncanny consistency and emotional power featured on Jordan's previous work, albeit with a darker, more drawn-out edge.
If nothing else, Arboreal is a summary of Benn Jordan's entire back catalogue. The idm influences return proudly to the forefront on much of the album, and spacey ambient passages from Pale Blue Dot make their appearances. On "Dreaming Renewal", Benn Jordan joins Bon Iver in proving that autotune can become an artistic instrument rather than a crutch. On the aptly titled "The Great Pumpkin Tapes", a jazzy guitar track meets gentle piano and wouldn't sound out of place in the cartoon for which it is named. And on the landmark "Skeletons", clocking in at over six minutes, Jordan focuses all the creative energy scattered haphazardly over 31 tracks of his previous album into one piece, with a vocal build-up, the loudest moment on the album, and a tear-jerking piano outro.
The bipolar artist behind The Flashbulb is the same one on Arboreal that most of us met in Soundtrack To A Vacant Life. The emotional punch is still there, striking the listener with jaw-dropping melodies at every turn and making unexpected musical detours through multiple sounds. But Arboreal is a maturation of that same sound, a natural development and a culmination of influences into what feels like one giant setpiece. It may not be as landmark, but it certainly is no less fantastic.
Hear It: Dragging Afloat