The Flashbulb: Soundtrack to a Vacant Life

Soundtrack To A Vacant Life, Benn Jordan's latest The Flashbulb opus (two years in the making, we're told), is so all-purpose, it could hold up as an entire month's listening all by itself. Extending his sights far beyond electronica per se, Jordan tackles pretty much every style under the sun and, better yet, most of its stands up to scrutiny very well indeed. Almost all of it's performed by Alphabasic CEO Jordan with the exception of violin and cello playing by respectively, Greg Hirte and Claire Nicholson. The new album distances itself almost entirely from electronica with the sole explicit reference to it heard in sputter and squelch that appears alongside dreamy willowy melodies in “Warm Hands in Cold Fog.” Throughout the seventy-one minute collection, the focus is often on acoustic sounds of piano, guitar, drum, and strings and classical, folk, synth-funk, and prog/post-rock settings.

The album's best tracks include elegant solo piano etudes (“Floating Through Time,” “Severed,” “La Tristesse Durera Toujours,” “The First Rain and You”) and breezy vignettes for acoustic guitar, piano, and strings (“No Running Water,” “I Believed In God”), as well as “Steel for Pappa,” a lovely acoustic guitar setting, and “Remember Tomorrow,” whose crisp electro-funk Jordan overlays with Hirte's singing violin. In addition, the combination of classical guitar and accordion strengthens the Mediterranean seaside vibe of “Dirt Bikes And Street Vendors,” “Hello Mr. Tree” enters Squarepusher-by-way-of-Stanley Clarke funk-rock territory with electric bass the lead voice, and “Forbidden Tracks” presents guitar-heavy prog/post-rock with Jordan indulging in some over-the-top fusion drumming. Song titles often tell the story all by themselves (e.g., the brooding moodscape “Bodies In The House Next Door,” the bucolic “Near the Woods,” uplifting “Sunshine,” aggressive percussion piece “Vicious Circle,” and wistful waltz “Leaving Georgia”). In its final third, the album gravitates more towards melancholy and languor, lending the album a gravitas it might otherwise lack.

With so much material and so many styles, the album understandably doesn't cohere into a singular statement. It's more of a buffet displaying a plenitude of exotic dishes from which one can sample (a less charitable view would argue Jordan's throwing everything against the wall in the hope that something sticks). Even if there's something that doesn't strike your fancy, as most cuts are two to three minutes in length, chances are it'll step aside quickly so that something you do want to hear can take its place.

April 2008