Its promotional material states proudly that Dumb Flesh is “A comment on the flaws of the human form in its current evolutionary state. The frailty of the human body naturally became a resonant and inescapable part of the album’s gestation” – which is the kind of thing you might read on an art gallery wall, next to a large black canvas with a big red blob on it. The art produced by Blanck Mass (the pseudonym of Fuck Button’s Benjamin Power) may have gotten no less abstract since his 2011 self-titled debut but his style has changed dramatically; this record is far more detailed, busy, boisterous and a lot less, erm, blobby. If that first LP of über-ambient Eno-isms was a murkily tranquil Rothko of a record, Dumb Flesh is the audio equivalent of a very messy war between the malevolent creations of Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali and Jake and Dinos Chapman.
It opens with the jarring ‘Loam’, which sounds like a cartoon ogre running backwards through a remorseless digital thicket and getting gradually ground down into colourful powder. This is followed by ‘Dead Format’. Structurally-speaking, it’s a fairly catchy, almost poppy number, albeit one warped beyond the palate of mainstream tastes into a migraine-inducing abstract banger. It’s a confident start to the record but the subsequent, lengthier tracks prove even more pleasing. On these, Power allows himself greater time and space for his many ideas to breathe and evolve more naturally. The ten-minute ‘No Lite’, for example, begins with the prowling menace of a soundtrack that’s just oozed from the mind of the filmmaker (and now Blanck Mass label-mate) John Carpenter and gradually builds into something a little more oddly euphoric.
Similarly, the harshly industrial drum sound of ‘Cruel Sport’’s intro could have been lifted from an old Skinny Puppy instrumental or Ministry remix. Again, this one mutates into a more triumphant and bizarrely joyous-sounding work thanks to its glitchily indecipherable vocal samples and unashamedly big ‘n’ bold orchestral synth chords. Even jollier (relatively speaking) is ‘Double Cross’: an uplifting Erasure backing-track, perhaps, that’s been scrunched up like a ball of paper and juggled in the metallic claw-like hands of a futuristic big-top circus-bot, balancing on a rocket-firing unicycle.
‘Detritus’, meanwhile, starts with an ear-splattering static drone worthy of the cult bin-bag-wearing “Harsh wall noise” artist Vomir. Unlike the Frenchman’s rigidly inert noise tracks, however, after a couple of minutes ‘Detritus’ breaks into a floatier, vaguely Vangelis– or Toto-like plateau. So energising is this transformation, that it could inspire you to go out jogging, if only it wasn’t for the inhospitable dystopian climate and gigantic man-eating sandworms that lurk outside the airlock of your malfunctioning moon-base.
Not every track is equally rousing. By comparison, ‘Atrophies’ feels a little ordinary and overly compartmentalised . There is less depth and less cohesion to the apparent chaos. And the wacky sex-moan/animal-purr/child-coo noises that crop up briefly towards the end of ‘Lung’ fail to rescue this darkly ambient piece from its own inconsequentiality.
Concerns for your ear-drums aside, Dumb Flesh probably won’t make you sit down and ruminate seriously on the frailty of your own frustratingly mortal body. But it’s the music, not the concept, that matters and in its greatest moments Dumb Flesh is so loud, enterprising, forward-thinking and adeptly executed that you can imagine Thom Yorke twitching around to it in his socks and pyjamas on the smooth surface of his massive heated-kitchen-floor, before borrowing its ideas, diluting its essence and whining over the top of it for his next solo LP. It really is that excellent.
Written by JR Moores @spinal_bap