Benjamin Finger – The Bet (Watery Starve, 2014)

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Benjamin Finger is back making music again following his unusual field recordings dominated release last year Listen To My Nerves Hum,  a storytelling piece that charted his migration across Europe and the hardships of upheaval. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the album’s biggest fan, it didn’t really bowl me over or anything like that; I thought it had something of an alienating quality despite its attempts at introspection and empathy. So I was naturally a little hesitant coming into Finger’s latest The Bet, which strikes an even more experimental line of attack than its predecessor.

There’s quite a strong Free Folk vibe emanating from this album at times, which is rather refreshing since it’s not something I come across very often. Opener “Faintheadedness” is a short and warped introduction to this soundscape, flowing effortlessly on gentle piano strokes and chopped but harmonious coos and moans before bowing out to the organic tumult of clanging triangles and assorted metallic instruments. This childlike attitude is immediately lost as we slip into the oxymoronically titled “Kids Dreaming Landscapes (That Might Have Astonished Parrots)”. What the content of these parrot-astonishing dreamscapes is we’ll perhaps never know, there’s an evasive and brooding atmosphere that seems to separate us from this subconscious world, the track filled with the shifting sands of carefully migrating drones stacked upon one another, distal shouts and cries sometimes breaking through the thick oppressive surface of the piece. The piano still grounds us and leads us out and away at the very end once the fog has lifted and we’re turned away.

That sort of alternative Folk side of things reappears on the slow and minimal turnings of mysterious “Rosencrans Exits”, the piano all smeared and warbling in this mindful mirage filled with hushed female whisperings. It’s a gorgeously delicate track, almost too good to be true; intimate and careful at its core, content to meander and not follow any established path: free. “Sulfurous Fog” flips this on its head and twists things around, suddenly desirous to introduce rhythmic elements wrapped in a much darker framework, establishing a distantly thudding synth line to propel the track through the skittering, warped glitches, echoic drone and faded feminine hums far in the distance. It’s a kaleidoscope in the dark, subtly bending and distressing that which can hardly be seen in the first place, and it’s almost like “Bad-Luck Planet” flips the switch and lets us see what we’re missing out on as it carries the disjointed but ultimately driven lines of melody out of the darkness, the twitching, chaotic mass available to see with some greater clarity as it ticks and jitters along uncomfortably.

“Nasal Breakdown” is a refreshing diversion from the aimless chaos of the previous couple of tracks, a beautiful and delicate mid-album interlude that removes all sense of confusion and randomness in its slow and measured piano and gorgeous reverbed vocals, not sounding too dissimilar to the beautiful Otavasiset Otsakkaha by Nuojova from 2012, another album that touched similar Free Folk vibes in the same vein as these tracks. Sadly the reprieve is minimal and “Angel-less Halo” is perhaps the most twisted piece so far, with words and conversations quite literally bubbling up through a muddied mix; like a radio between stations it jumps from fragmental guitar sounds to the thudded bassline of some far-removed, alien EDM piece for a few moments as it makes its bizarre journey across the airwaves. It eventually runs out of battery power and judders to an abrupt end and we’re turned once again to another enigmatically beauteous piece in “Time Steps”, the album continuing to flip-flop between disorder and peacefulness as those intimate coos float ethereally out of its heart, stable and stationary entities to deflect the occasional rushes of light static and tympanic beats.

Penultimate “Care In Motion” can’t let us down now that we’re so close to the end, and you’re right, it keeps this yin-yang approach up as it twists and distorts everything that was good about “Time Steps”, smothering the harmonious attitude and bringing the darker male voice at the back of the last piece closer to the action, whilst throwing on a blanket of swirling, misshapen, fragmentary instrumentation to poison its heart. Yet not everything is lost, for its closing moments seem want to reverse some of the destruction and speak out briefly, a final ray of light in the jumbled, uncomfortable dreamworld before we shift gears into closer “Horizonless Brain”, unquestionably the weirdest track of the album. The unlimited nature of our imagination is seemingly unveiled as Finger throws every conceivable texture he can at the wall; the distant throbbing of some pounding bassline matches the miserable, delicate guitar lines and cruising constant of the background drone, fed all by the writhing mass of disjointed, glitched instruments at the fore, only to close on a bizarre parting shot of deeply active, heck even danceable, synth.

I’ve written a number of conclusions that sort of come down pretty hard on the album but I think that’s unfair; I know, despite my purple prose I still do come away from this album with a sense of inconclusion and disappointment, a feeling that I’m missing some vitally important facet of this album that’s the key to unlocking its jumbled randomness and enjoying it. Sadly it’s too dysfunctional and aimless for me to really get into, once again wanting to force us away and hold us at a distance as we watch its partially-crystallised ideas unfold, frustrated that those beauteous Free Folk excursions are not more prominent and that its chaos didn’t feel so harshly deliberate. On on the cusp of falling in love but it’s still a ways off yet for me, unfortunately.

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