Cruel Nature Records – 11th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

This is something that the CD or digital release simply cannot really do justice to as a full, multi-faceted, multi-sensory experience: the split LP. And while I’m more of a fan of vinyl and cassette, this most certainly does the job: you have to turn the thing over. It is truly an album of two halves. In this case, half Benbow, and half Strssy. And while some split releases simply stick two artists back to back – and there’s nothing wrong with that – Benbow and Strssy have history.

As the biographical notes detail, they first met ‘in a basement café in Lausanne, Switzerland just before the first sliced loaf was presented at the World’s Fair. Benbow had just finished a tour of the Alps with wandering trapeze troupe, NORMAL MAN while Strssy had taken a well-earned sabbatical from conjoined mime act, DIET PILLS. Over the following years they exchanged correspondence and encouragement as they independently began making experimental electronic music’. This split release, then, is pitched as ‘a celebration of this journey’.

Benbow’s eight cuts make for a hell of a journey in their own right. The tone is far from celebratory: it’s dark, claustrophobic, driven by dense beats and even denser atmosphere. Short, fragmentary snippets that straddle the space between sketched ideas and something more fully realised, all bar two are under three minutes in duration, but pack in a lot. Broadly, Benbow explores the tropes of minimalist, dark-hip hop, with thwacking solid beats and phat bass that gnaws at the gut with simple repetitive motifs or only three of four notes. It’s kinda heavy, and the effect is cumulative.

‘Slowly’ grinds, chugs, and churns away, the bass thick and gnarly amidst a swirl of reverberating synth oscillations that emulate the nagging call of a siren toward the end. Benbow’s final track, ‘Two’ marks quite a shift, with strings galore and an altogether lighter mood.

Strssy similarly trades in contrasts and juxtapositions. ‘Off a Watering Can’ starts out gentle, but when the beat kicks in, it’s pretty bloody heavy, and the mood changes significantly. It’s no longer chillout, ambience, but dense and tense, and layers of noise build exponentially to incorporate shrill whistles of modular synth abuse. ‘Deep Interior’ is all the twitch and bleep against dank, rumbling caverns of sound and then, from nowhere, it’s more rapid and relentless wails like a misfiring smoke alarm, only with a squeaky toy embedded in the circuitry. On a bad day, I’d likely find this seriously fucking annoying, but in a balanced and objective mood, it’s possible to give kudos to the way in which Strssy incorporates dance elements into a more freeform approach to electronic music which also incorporates industrial and ambient leanings. ‘Bath Night’ is a thumping industrial melting pot that’s more like drowning slowly than floating serenely, while ‘A Beautiful Brown Catalogue’ is all about the bowels with its booming bass frequencies, plus additional wild trumpet action. It’s got that late 80s wax Trax! vibe, but with a more experimental twist, and it pinches the brain.

Paired, Benbow and Strssy make for a formidable duo, a tag-team of hard-hitting genre-splicing, slow-groove bashing behemoths.

AA

Xcover

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