My hands-down jam at the moment is “Nolan,” by Ben Frost, but I willingly concede that it is not everybody's idea of a hit song.
Frost is an experimental composer living amid the geothermal pools and Aurora Borealis of Iceland, and one whose most noticeable musical currency is jarring abrasion. In the moments that his grinding distortion and piercing frequencies give way to a quieter passage, it resembles ambient sound more than traditional melody. While listening to one such part recently, my wife came home through the front door, cocked her head quizzically, and asked, “Is the heater broken? It sounds like it's turning on and off.”
There is a robust community of similar noise musicians who, to the general public, would seem to exist solely for the purpose of alienating casual music listeners. (I can imagine their volume knobs being cranked up right now in angry defiance at Taylor Swift's new album selling hundreds of thousands of copies this week.) And yet Frost, who performs a rare stateside show Oct. 29 at 1015 Folsom, has oodles more going on in his music than cacophony for cacophony's sake; or for making a statement about the blandness of commercial art; or for giving nerdish Merzbow fans another limited cassette release to drool over on obscure message boards.
To illustrate: On a cold day in 2012, I briefly detoured our family vacation in Reykjavík to visit the headquarters of Bedroom Community, Frost's label. We took the bus four miles from the city center, were welcomed warmly, and talked over coffee with employees. At some point, I chatted briefly with Frost, who was there working in his studio on new music; I remember him mentioning both Tom Waits and the Cocteau Twins.