On “Sweet Love For Planet Earth,” the opening track of Fuck Buttons’ 2008 debut album Street Horrrsing, Benjamin John Power was downright terrifying. With an army’s worth of monolithic synths backing him, he let out a series of throat ripping screams, sounding like a black metal singer trapped inside of an all-powerful computer. It was, and still is, an album that hits hard in the gut with sheer sonic force. While Fuck Buttons moved in more accessible directions on 2009’s Tarot Sport, it’s still quite a shock giving the debut album of Power’s Blanck Mass project a spin, as it’s another step further away from that ear-shattering debut. When considering “Sweet Love” again, it makes Power seem like the least likely Fuck Button to put out an album of softly hitting ambient, found-sound, and synth textures.
Although Blanck Mass maintains a pretty homogeneous tone and sound throughout, it somehow never manages to bore or be less than engaging, and this is by far its biggest achievement. Describing this album to someone, and having to mention that it contains zero drums, trace amounts of vocals, and hardly anything approaching a conventional rhythm definitely makes it seem like a tough sell. Luckily, Power does an admirable job of not only crafting a coherent whole, but also offering enough variation from track to track. In a way, it’s similar to the work Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld released as Geotic on last year’s Mend, in that it’s a collection of slight variations on a single theme. According to Power, the album was mainly inspired by cerebral hypoxia, or, what happens when oxygen is unable to reach the brain, and the natural world at large. The latter seems like the more apt description, because the pieces of music on Blanck Mass are far more expansive than the suffocating feeling of hypoxia would suggest.
While there are definitely moments that recall Power’s Fuck Buttons work, like the cement mixer drones that lie beneath “Sundowner” and first single “Land Disasters,” the main draw of Blank Mass is definitely its softer moments. “Chernobyl” drifts along with genuine grace, full of windy, shimmering synth tones shifting notes at a melancholy pace. “Raw Deal” could relatively be described as playful, with a quickly oscillating keyboard acting as a base for insect noises and other odd sound effects. Elsewhere, a gaggle of frogs contribute their voices to “Icke’s Struggle,” which brings to mind a star-filled evening at a swamp, while the harshly titled “Fuckers” sounds like a choir trapped in the middle of a wind tunnel. The sprawling, 13-minute “What You Know” offers the starkest contrast to the rest of the album when it cuts off to isolate a futuristic sounding keyboard line, almost making the listener want to break back out into the natural world painted by the other tracks on the album.
Had Blanck Mass turned out to be a complete disaster, Power could have easily used the fact that he recorded the album seemingly for fun in his London apartment as an excuse. The fact that it turned out quite well makes that fact that much more satisfying, and elevates the album above mere curiosity to a possible road sign pointing towards Fuck Buttons’ future material.