- The Centre Cannot Hold was meant to be an experiment. Ben Frost wanted to see what would happen if he relinquished control of the recording process of an album—would it still be his? The record was in safe hands; Steve Albini is one of the finest engineers in the business, and an all-time hero of Frost's. But the subsequent US elections cast the LP in a new and eerily prescient light. Frost, who was in the States as the results came in, remembers the chaos that ensued, and the collective uncertainty over what a future with Donald Trump might entail. The Centre Cannot Hold is a deeply unsettled record, driven by a quivering, unpredictable energy. It now relates to the instability of the times, but the LP was finished well before Trump became president.
Frost has strong political views, but he is careful to keep them separate from his work—he wants everyone to be able to engage with his music, no matter their beliefs. His ongoing collaboration with photographer Richard Mosse and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten has brought him into contact with the conflict in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo, war in Syria and Iraq and the global refugee crisis. All of these experiences seep into The Centre Cannot Hold.
Violence is everywhere on the album, from the track titles ("Trauma Theory," "A Sharp Blow In Passing," "All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated") to the music itself via sudden, earth-shattering detonations and searing sonic flashes. These add up to a harsh listening experience, but The Centre Cannot Hold is also very beautiful, even delicate at times. Take "A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000," a twinkling, seconds-long reset between the maelstrom of "Trauma Theory" and the crashing tides of "Eurydice's Heel." That the track is one of the calmest on the album is significant. It forces us to take a moment to consider the title and what it might mean out in the world right now.
Guitar chords add an undercurrent of emotion, making the more abstract parts of The Centre Cannot Hold easier to connect with. There's "Meg Ryan Eyez" and "Healthcare," two lush ambient guitar pieces that resonate on a visceral, subconscious level. Other tracks use shocking dynamics and sound design to provoke a more immediate response. Both are important in getting Frost's message across.
It's difficult not to hone in on the Americana subtext. The US feels prevalent here, with references to faith, war, celebrities and healthcare. It was recorded in Chicago, too—a long way away from the environment Frost is used to in Reykjavík, where he lives. But if his current show with MFO is anything to go by, it's the ocean—or liquid—that's the most fitting theme. The Centre Cannot Hold is about flux, about the flow of change through cycles of destruction and serenity. It's a more hopeful record than you might think.
01. Threshold Of Faith
02. A Sharp Blow In Passing
03. Trauma Theory
04. A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000
05. Eurydice's Heel
06. Meg Ryan Eyez
09. All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated
10. Entropy In Blue