(Bodytonic Music, released 17 Mar 2017)
Fresh from the release of the post-rock/R&B hybrid Kiss Yourself by his group Meltybrains?, Dublin-based multi-instrumentalist Ben Bix returns to his solo side-project with the house-infused EP Ben Bix and Feather. While his 2013 full-length release All of the Variations at Once was inclined toward ambient instrumentalism, the dance-oriented tracks of the new EP re-enlist the vocal duties of past collaborator Feather, who appeared on the very similarly titled EP Ben Bix // Feather. Details are murky on who or what exactly Ben Bix and Feather actually are, but the tracks of their supposed second joint release convey a duo happily dabbling in whatever takes their fancy, so long as it’s got a good beat.
The production sounds positively restless, absorbing all manner of sonic excursion. The obtuse beat of ‘Krumpit’ swirls and palpitates from wispy ambience to crunchy dissonant stomps. ‘Oh, How’ is a house banger with a grotesque edge, as an indistinct and entirely incidental sample is freely allowed to repeat itself. ‘I Hate This Part’ is a dub reggae meditation, complete with the addition of moody horns, made otherworldly by sections of vinyl crackles (or is it rainfall?) straight out of a Burial record. ‘Thirsty’ nods to West Coast hip hop production with its G-Funk snaking synth, as ‘Red Church Window’ sits on the cheerier side of Maxinquaye-era Tricky. The undeniable deep house of Ben Bix and Feather is progressive in both senses; as well as in the conventional implementation of linked movements à la prog rock, these beats are positively forward thinking in their stylistic diversity.
Barring mercifully brief scat outbursts – which reveal an overlap of vocal house and electro swing that, like the hidden image of a magic eye picture, one cannot unsee – Feather’s solid vocal talent finely complements Ben Bix’s more pared-down instrumentals, much in the way Martina Topley-Bird shone through the dust of Tricky’s compositions. That said, Feather-heavy track ‘Finger Dub’, one of the EP’s longest tracks, seems to lose its way somewhere around the four-and-a-half minute mark, trailing off in a way befitting a heady club set but perhaps not necessarily an armchair listen. Overall, however, contrary to IDM’s founding principle as music for the brain and not the body, Ben Bix and Feather gun for both and succeed.
While cynics might dismiss Ben Bix and Feather as an exercise in checking boxes on a long list of house and electronica subgenres, the merit of the EP is in its genre playfulness. Like great genre fiction writers, Ben Bix and Feather understand the world they inhabit well enough to bend its rules.