Try to remember a moment in your life that you might call exceptional. For some, this moment could be a month spent abroad. For others, maybe a magical hour of a glorious event It could even be the minute that contains your first kiss. There’s a feeling you brand to these moments, and they’re not the easiest to express. You know what they mean to you, but try explaining that to a stranger. Artists make entire careers from this form of expression--writing poetry, music, film, and other mediums. One of my favorite artists in this category is musician Benn Jordan, aka “The Flashbulb”. He’s built a career carefully replicating the feeling of a moment, or crafting one from thin air for almost all of his albums over the last ten years. The majority of his music wield tight orchestral arrangements supplemented with clever ambiance and electronic beats, all with a rhythmic structure heavily inspired by the Jazz scene of Chicago. He creates a solid blend of IDM and acoustic performance, slowed down for impact and pacing. There are maybe a handful of lyrics in each album, but the ones that are there resonate strongly with the feeling his music evokes. And, with all these tools and a focus on capturing a moment, Benn creates another mosaic of emotion: Piety of Ashes.
Piety of Ashes tries to capture the cultural and possibly religious significance of a natural disaster. This particular album is themed heavily around the motif of an erupting volcano, but certainly not limited to that. What’s interesting is the choice of feeling he’s capturing: it’s not about the event itself, but rather the aftermath and the perspective one applies to it. Benn ignores the blast, instead capturing the sensation of being blown away. Many of the songs are peaceful in tone and arrangement, a passivity that undercuts the disaster of the moment and replaces it with awe. I feel the nature of the moment in songs like “Porchfire” and “Leaves”; I appreciate its majesty and serenity with “As Water” and “Saints”; I understand it from a rhythmic perspective through “Isochronal” and “Wind”. With Piety of Ashes, Benn is telling a story, taking a singular moment and exploring every facet of its being.
It’s impressive just how much force Benn manages to extract from a few choice instruments, not just in this album, but throughout his discography. Violin combines with Piano to set a strong sense of time and tone, masterfully extending the emotion of the piece like a murmuring undercurrent. The synth beats provide a snap to the music, channeling its energy to create a solid balance of highs and lows. He experiments with a variety of stranger instruments for the sake of exploring particular nuances. Finally, there’s that Jazz guitar, which crafts the soul of the moment and intertwines with the other elements to create something indistinguishable from magic.
One small critique, however. I like this album wholeheartedly, but I do think overall it’s slightly lacking compared to some of his earlier works. I mentioned the idea of capturing a moment or feeling, and most of his recent albums have done that: Arboreal captures imagination of the natural, Opus at the End of Everything captures analysis and its transition into thought, Nothing is Real captures one’s sense of self compared to the world, and the list goes on. With Piety of Ashes, I identify a sensation of reverence for the uncontrollable, and while it’s a strong theme it’s also much more passive than a majority of his other work. It’s cool to hear something different, but it may also take a bit longer to appreciate. In a way, this passivity actually works to the album’s advantage, at least if you’re willing to give it a few listens; it’s nearly impossible to really appreciate after only a day. All together, Piety of Ashes is an abundant wellspring of musical prowess and I especially recommend it to all you musicians trying to capture a feeling.