Blanck Mass, the new side project of Benjamin Power of Fuck Buttons, has a title that seems slightly more considered than that of his house-noise duo with Andrew Hung. As far as I can tell, Blanck Mass is a visual portmanteau of the words “blank” and “black,” combining both senses into one strangely familiar spelling. Significantly for an instrumental album, this word cannot be said out loud without losing at least one of the meanings (the simple addition of the silent consonant “c” to the word “blank” makes it unpronounceable) and verbal language fails (one cannot say two words at once). It’s an appropriate moniker for Power’s latest project, because with Blanck Mass he has created an immersive, alien world that evokes the failure of perception as it recedes across the edge of human understanding.
Blanck Mass moves in evolutionary time, spawning teeming ecosystems living and dying their generations in the inhumanly patient, time-lapse perspective of the drone. The press release with this album calls it “out of step with the nostalgic focus of current climes,” and I hear that. The textures on this album sound very fresh to me, exhibiting little of the analog fetishism, retro-futuristic kitsch, or hypnagogic tricks of much contemporary ambient music. This is what keeps Blanck Mass from being New Age: It’s not sentimental. It’s not even nearly human. Power incorporates field recordings of insects, birds, and ambient sounds into nearly every track, ensconcing them in stately synthetic washes, elemental guitar distortion, and a buzzing churn of computer beeps and clicks that rushes toward the sonic surface like air bubbles in water. On “What You Know,” The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” shoot lighting down over a primordial sea. “Fuckers” swoons like a chorus of drowned Fitzcarraldos. Blanck Mass is a wet, humid album; it fills the nose and the lungs as much as it enters the ears, evoking condensation, erosion, and the thirsty capillary properties of water, that element whose liquid form is so rare and precious in the universe.
There is a Darwinian hardness to this album that makes it a fitting release for Mogwai’s Rock Action label. “Sundowner,” in particular, takes the symphonic peak of a post-rock song and stretches it out, USmile (800% Slower)-style into an anoxic swirl of whooshes and rushes, revealing previously hidden fractal motifs dancing in the crescendo. Blanck Mass is a “mass” in many senses: there is the religious sense, the transcendental church of nature, seen not through Emerson’s transparent eyeball but through the grasping, rational lens of the telescope or the microscope. But it is also a mass in the sense of amassing. The songs do not proceed or develop in a horizontal sense, but through the vertical elements of texture and timbre. In its very composition, Blanck Mass evokes the complex interrelations of biological systems, a complexity that is the result of innumerable deaths and lives. Listening to this album suggests a universe of unheard information beyond the reach of understanding and perception, of phenomena both too brief and too enormous for us to comprehend.