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Review of Benny Boeldt's 8 of Cups

By Matt Reise | 26/2/16 3:03pm
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Benny Boeldt - 8 of Cups (Carpark)

Frenetic electronic chip-tune

After relocating from North Carolina to Baltimore and releasing three full length albums with locally based Carpark Records, Benny Beoldt decided it was time for a change. Even though he had established a reasonable fan-base under the moniker “Adventure”, he dismantled his old musical persona and released his first album under his own name on January 22nd. Amplifying some thematic and musical elements from his prior works, Boeldt’s newest work 8 of Cups is heavily centered on intensely fragmented electronic melodies.

Boeldt’s sound, in all honesty, is a bit of an acquired taste. Initially, it is abrasive and perhaps even inhuman. It sounds as though a waveform emitted by a processing computer was sliced up into miniscule fragments, then glued back together at warp speed. The electronic chipped sounds bombard listeners at a rate unprecedented by most ears. It sounds as though the lights to a crazy and frenetic electronic song were flickered on and off at seizure-inducing rates, so that the opposition of pitch black and blinding light joined to form something greater and more dynamic than simple grey.

8 of Cups could be a lot to handle at first. But once listeners peer deeper, they will realize that the chaotic noise isn’t entirely random. Rather, Boeldt has meticulously assembled his mosaic timeline of sound in a manner that hints at subtle melodies. The sizeable extensions of electronic cacophony in his songs make a semi-obvious tune all the sweeter. This is most certainly an artistic decision by Boeldt. Even where there isn’t a definitive or commonplace “melody”, Boeldt has worked his fragmentations in a manner that emphasizes a pattern or certain mode of focus. He is an auditory artist before a musician by generic definition.

Though a bit of a niche sound, the subgenre of Boeldt’s music has historically had a sizeable following. Famed artists inhabiting the same musical sphere are the unique and mystical talents of Dan Deacon and Aphex Twin. Deacon and Boeldt recognized the similarities between their works, and Boeldt toured across the US and Europe as a member of Deacon’s travelling ensemble a few years ago. Their sound could theoretically be classified into subgenres of IDM or Psychedelia, but I don’t feel that these titles do the music justice. Boeldt and his influencers are part of a specialized musical realm yet to have been labeled, and I think that these trailblazing musicians would appreciate it if I kept it this way.

Most tracks themselves are very short, with only three songs on the album lasting longer than three minutes. This is understandable, though, because the immense amount of work required to create such meticulous musical fragmentations must be extraordinarily tedious. A labor of love, evidently. The record’s opener, “Blue Sky”, is a rocket into the abyss of Benny Boeldt’s twisted and unconventional mind. It is in some aspects the most amelodic and unharmonious of the record’s tracks. Boeldt likely did this as an exposure tactic so that the rest of the album can be enjoyed fully; by exposing listeners to the most harsh and abrasive sounds right off the bat, they will have grown accustomed to his unique style by the time other songs roll around. In doing so, his other tracks can shine to their fullest potential.

“Tea”, the album’s most popular track on SoundCloud, opens with a whimsical and retro-themed clip asking “How do you like your tea?” Filled with other various sound clips all throughout, “Tea” has an Alice in Wonderland esque feel to it. Though Boeldt was compared to Aphex Twin earlier in this review, it is worth noting that Boeldt’s music is much more whimsical and humorous than Aphex’s work. The end-of-days atmosphere of Aphex Twin’s music is largely unincorporated into Boeldt’s work, who tends to mix his Aphex-like style with a Deacon-like vigor.

“Nom”, the record’s shortest track, is a frenetic little ditty of electronic fragments played overtop of deeper, sweeping synth. The fifth track “Have a Pizza” sounds more space-age than the rest of Boeldt’s tracks for some reason. Its whimsicality is all-encompassing, while “Living Dream” is less whimsical and more jovial. Less abrasive than most other tracks of the album, this song sounds much more focused and calm than the others. Its zen-like vibes are surprising, because the song is still insanely choppy and fragmented like the rest of the album. Boedlt worked some magic by fashioning this song so that the chaos and peace can coexist simultaneously. The record’s closer, “Valley Amnesia”, opens with calmness akin to that of “Living Dream”. It almost manages to construct an ambient and peaceful atmosphere from the sharp and jagged cacophony that composes the song’s individual parts.

My word of advice for listeners of Benny Boeldt’s newest (and technically first) album 8 of Cups would be to give it a chance. Like the darkest of coffees, the initial acquisition of fondness is the highest hurdle one has to leap over. Once the barrier is crossed, an entire sea of flavors and experiences awaits those who had the patience and determination to understand a unique art-form and experience something new.

-Matt Reise

RIYL: Dan Deacon, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher

Recommended: 2, 7