The Flashbulb: Nothing Is Real (Bandcamp)
Benn Lee Jordan’s music as the Flashbulb has really evolved over time, starting off as a somewhat petulant drill & bass producer with ADHD (hot on the heels of Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James style) and then migrating progressively into more and more lush and accomplished production. His previous album Arboreal was my first exposure to his music since 2003’s girls.suck.but.YOU.dont, and it was a far cry — so much more evolved and unique and interesting. Nothing Is Real continues along the same trajectory, with a whopping twenty-two pieces that veer from lush, cinematic ambience to more melancholic disco crossovers. More elaborate, beatless arrangements like “Troubled Plains,” “Mysterious Wall,” and “I Can Feel It Humming” show off Jordan’s talents as a pianist, guitarist, and arranger, with swooning string arrangements and tight, detailed production to seal the deal.
One thing that’s proved so satisfying about recent Flashbulb albums, much like those of Chris Clark on Warp, is that I get the impression that he continually pushing himself to try new things, to be unafraid to tackle new ideas, fuse together conventions in interesting ways, not feel tied to any specific pace, mood, or vibe. And yet Nothing Is Real is a rousing success for all of those reasons, sounding whole by virtue of its variety. Its pieces and parts don’t feel unrelated, but they do offer up a high amount of variety. There are shades of Hauschka or Christian Löffler on slightly pulsing numbers like “Prayers Without Gods” or “Nothing But Lines,” but these are a healthy bridge between the aforementioned more cinematic pieces and more beat-laden works like “Rose Hierarchy” or “Neon Wireframe Landscape.” Only on “Hymn to the Unobtainable” does he appear to fully indulge his drumming skills, with what sounds like a more acoustic kit in the mix (on Arboreal it popped up a bit more regularly). Nothing Is Real is far less IDM-influenced than its predecessor, more at ease with letting the bottom drop out while the more delicate components of his pieces remain in tact more clearly, allowing their own prettiness to flourish fully without the counterpoint of touches of acid or breaks, and instead simply roaming and being the more ephemeral sounds they need to be this time around. It’s a satisfying and twisting and turning hour plus of quality music, worth checking out for fans of inspired electronic instrumental listening.