To be perfectly honest, this is probably one of the craziest albums of music I’ve listened to. And I’ve heard a lot of weird, bizarre music. Don’t let me scare you away with such a description, though. It’s crazy in a good way! Great, now I sound like I’m crazy. I need to stop saying crazy. Okay, moving on.
The point here is that in a world where it seems almost impossible to come up with any sort of new, original music, The Flashbulb has succeeded in bring us Hardscrabble, one of the most unique electronic glitch records to date. I can only imagine how much time and effort must have been put into making this album. And it’s all the work of a single man: Benn Jordan, a.k.a. The Flashbulb. As it says on the website of Alphabasic, the record label he founded himself: “The only common quality that Hardscrabble‘s songs share is unorthodox time signatures, microtonal piano melodies, and the most accomplished synthesis that we’ve seen from Jordan, in both analog and computerized website.”
Are you intrigued yet? Even if you’re not a huge fan of electronica music, I would urge you to check out this guy’s music for the sheer purpose of expanding your mind and hearing something that I can assure you you’ve never heard before. The music on Hardscrabble isn’t just made up of a bunch of random noises (well technically it is, if we wanted to get esoteric here). There is a level of familiarity present that helps us connect. Although everything is digital synthesis, it’s easy to picture a virtual band playing. There are clear distinctions between drums, bass, keyboard pads, and guitar, plus a large helping of other processed effects. One track, entitled “The Basement Trio,” brings to mind a strong mental image of an actual trio playing music in – you guessed it – a basement. In a way, we should actually give The Flashbulb an extra wave of applause. Despite being limited to nothing but digital sounds, he manages to create music in a form that is absolutely recognizable and relatable to the common ear.
There are strong influences here from many distinct styles of electronica. The ambient influence is clear, as is Jordan’s unique take on dubstep. Of course, the glitch element remains at the forefront for the majority of the record. Depending on how in-depth we wanted to go, we could also cite acid house, breakbeats, and drum and bass as key components. There are a few genres represented here that are not quite as expected, however. The harmonic progressions and rhythmic syncopation suggest significant exposure and/or training in jazz. There’s also a bit of subtle rock flavoring thrown in there as well. All of these styles are blended together flawlessly into an unbelievable mixture of sound.
Through all of this, there’s this constant trend of fast, distorted beats. Some would characterize this as a subgenre called “breakcore,” although I’d rather not get bogged down with somewhat unnecessary labels. The idea is that there’s a frenetic energy that keeps the album interesting from start to finish. On the other hand, The Flashbulb keeps things on the chiller side with trancey piano chords and ambient sound effects. By fusing these two opposing musical characteristics together, we get a sound that is intriguing, mystifying, and calming all at the same time.
Tracks such as “Skype Piano” and “Seq Changing Airborne” emphasize this calmer side, while the opening song, “Back of the Yards,” and others like “Alley Acid” bring out a level of complexity that boggles the mind to no end. The album itself is relatively short, clocking in at only 40 minutes, yet by the end of the listener will feel like they’ve been transported through an extensive musical portal.
The most admirable and inspirational artists have gone beyond what is traditionally accepted as normal, and broken the boundaries of public perception. After listening to Hardscrabble, it is clear that The Flashbulb is one of those artists. His music is innovative, genre-bending, and forward-thinking. He has succeeded in laying down the rules for his own eclectic musical universe in a world where narrow-minded perspectives often prevail. In that way, he stands as a testament and encouragement to us all to open our own minds and embrace the eccentric side of our psyches.