If there ever was a single factor that separated Fuck Buttons from Benjamin Power’s solo electronic project, Blanck Mass, the distinction between the two is growing blurrier with the progression of each outfit’s respective output. Back in 2011, when Power released his self-titled Blanck Mass debut, it was the more atmospheric of the two, built less on rhythmic waves of distortion, and more heavily based in expansive, ambient soundcapes. Yet in the meantime, Fuck Buttons have grown less reliant on crushing noise and intense buzz, their 2013 album Slow Focus revealing more of an investment in conventionally pretty sounds—and, for that matter, some noise for good measure.
Fast forward two years to Blanck Mass’ second album, Dumb Flesh, and that awesome cosmic haze of Power’s initial creation has solidified into a twisted and abrasive pop record. To Power’s credit, he doesn’t make pop music that allows for an easy entry; the first track on the album, “Loam,” is essentially four minutes of music moving in reverse, and though the tension mounts, suggesting a rise up into a bigger, more climactic track, it continues moving in the same direction. And even before that, Powers greets the listener with a cover photo depicting a shapeless, curled up body with folds of flesh overlapping. It’s…off-putting.
Step past that fleshy curtain and through the disorienting foyer, however, and Dumb Flesh welcomes you into a dark and seductive club, the likes of which Power had previously only hinted at. Dumb Flesh is dance music—music for moving your own dumb flesh—yet it still carries that element of abrasion and menace that’s always been a part of his music, Fuck Buttons or otherwise. The nine-minute “No Lite” is a pulsing dancefloor jam that builds up slowly and with diversions into static-ridden psychedelia, but maintains one of the strongest grooves on the album. “Cruel Sport” creates a similar vibe, but pulls it into industrial/EBM territory and ups the sex appeal. Not that it’s the only thing simmering in Blanck Mass’ sex cauldron—”Dead Format,” which is the first proper song on the album, rides a mesmerizing middle ground between Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, sans Gahan or Reznor. Not that the absence of a compelling frontman hinders it in any way; Power is more than capable enough as a producer to make every measure a dazzling one.
As Dumb Flesh slinks toward its close on final track “Detritus,” it once again resorts to more abrasive and difficult measures, Power once again resurrecting the noise that dominated his sound with Fuck Buttons. Yet in time, that too fades into a rhythmic, melodic, and altogether triumphant piece of synth-based magic. For the better part of a decade, Power has been using electronic music for adventurous and sometimes ambiguous means. As it turns out, when he commits to making a pop record, the results are no less adventurous or exhilarating.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.