Okay, so if you’ll allow me to be obtuse – and really you’re going to have to – “Sifted Gold” begins Blanck Mass like the fade in to a shot of some underwater depth, a cave maybe, in the blackest corner of some wild, unnamed ocean. Either just audible through the impossible pressure or imagined by our host lens, waves gather and crash above while spiny, long-fingered devils lurk and bide below. Darkness. “A Benjamin John Power Film” briefly materializes onscreen before being blasted from view by refracted sunbeams! – A great alien crystal rising from the caverns! – bathing the surrounding undersea wasteland in futuristic synthesizer light!
As the crystal rises, sizzling through the water in a noisy distortion of purpose, layers of vibration and bubbling, unfolding twinkles circle upwards from the disturbed floor. Repetition of these contrasting textures, effective in their drama, are thematic both in aesthetic and in practice – this work gains, and loses, most of its impact and momentum through the gradual unravelling of these delicate, ambling patterns. The finger-creatures first shield their eyes from the rising monolithic stone, but soon find themselves drawn to its warmth, fan their slime-webbed hands and follow it carefully to the surface where, upon breaking the water on their brows, they touch the sun’s rays for the first time. “This is some 2001: A Space Odyssey shit,” someone says, but they are wrong. It’s more like Sphere, and here’s why:
What made Tarot Sport, the massive 2009 album by Power and associate noisemaker Andrew Hung, collectively Fuck Buttons, so expansive and exciting was its sonic enactment of scope and motion, unstoppably forward. Galloping percussion and propulsive energy (see “The Lisbon Maru”) made the album an adventure to experience. Here the movements are more subtle, sure, practically static at times, like in just about all of “Sub Serious,” but they also feel sleepy and meandering, or loopy and misplaced, like the prehistoric-bird-squawk-over-casio-chords of “Icke’s Struggle.” I feel like Icke is a jungle boy who was scooped up by the mother dino-bird and now he’s trying to escape her nest by not doing anything for three minutes. As this is a more introspective, ambient-leaning work, perhaps this is Power’s intention – but there is just an intangible cadence found on some of the better recent “drum-less” records – Does It Look Like I’m Here? for example – that Blanck Mass fails to achieve. For a themed record, even if the theme is basically drowning (cerebral hypoxia), this is a weird contiguity issue that is unfortunate in its degree of distraction.
Of course, the record is not without its triumphs, and as these are a Fuck Buttons-related triumphs, they are generally fucking huge. “Land Disasters” is a squall of ferocity and glory, churning and gathering power until the bass drops in at 3:47 and the resulting wall of sound feels satisfyingly earned and complete. “What You Know,” the album’s penultimate track, is a thirteen-and-a-half minute high, and is probably the closest we ever get to touching “Olympians”-level epic-ness (I’ve been trying so hard to go this whole thing without writing shit like “epic” or “cinematic”). It percolates and spirals within layers of itself like a dance track without any legs but a whole lot of style.
While I don’t understand a lot of the decisions made on this record, it is still undeniably an exhibition of some of the best sonic control and sound shaping around. If this is the more personal, internal side of Fuck Buttons, I’m pretty excited for when it all explodes and we start riding feathered serpents through spacetime to the tops of mountains again. Roll credits.