Sometimes a musician’s choice of adopted home can tell you more than anything they might willingly reveal in an interview. Take Australian born ambient musician Ben Frost for example, who upped sticks and is currently based in Iceland. The glacial beauty of that country suits his mysterious, dark sound perfectly: it would be hard to imagine the man living in Wagga Wagga or Hull, for example.
But perhaps it’s remiss of me to begin this review by talking about Frost himself – after all, V A R I A N T is a remix EP, and although Frost’s exceptional A U R O R A was the starting point for each of these reimaginings, they have been twisted and shaped into something entirely new by five electronic artists.
Three of V A R I A N T ‘s five tracks are remixes of Venter, A U R O R A’s brooding high point. The first Venter remix is the work of Evian Christ, an enigmatic musician who was pulled into the spotlight when sampled by Kanye West on Yeezus. Christ’s remix is a strange beast – it transforms Venter’s slow build into a throbbing, pulsing dance track, complete with an insistent beat. It’s not an entirely successful reshaping of the song – it’s a little too slick at times, and the complexity of the original is much more compelling than the predictability on display here – but it’s not entirely without merit when taken at face value, either.
Dutch E Germ’s Venter is a completely different story. Intense, but determinedly strange, I challenge anyone to find the skill (or will) to dance along to this one. It’s a powerful example of exactly what a remix should do: it pays homage to the original’s tone, but through complex restructuring, becomes a unique work, with a nightmarish power that is wholly its own.
Australia’s HTRK do solid, if slightly underwhelming, work with their Venter offering, while Kangding Ray’s No Sorrowing is the weakest offering on the EP. It’s by no means a bad track. It’s just dull, and with a running time of almost seven minutes, it most definitely overstays its welcome. Thankfully, V A R I A N T closes with electronic artist Regis’ interesting but flawed, Nolan remix – it’s the only track on the EP that comes close to combining beauty and horror the way Frost himself does so perfectly, even though its lack of focus means it never quite gets there.
On the whole, it is difficult for me to know exactly who to recommend V A R I A N T to: for those unaware of Frost’s work, the EP is too much of a mixed bag to warrant your attention, but even for A U R O R A’s fans, the EP might not be anything more than a curio.
In short, V A R I A N T, with its five artists (six if you count Frost, lurking in the shadows behind the proceedings) is a strange, mixed bag, not entirely unworthy of its source material, but never quite as compelling as it should be.