The Gaslamp Killer (Benjamin Bensussen) hasn’t had it easy constantly being put in Flying Lotus’s and Gonjasufi’s shadows which is justifiably frustrating given that he is easily on their level – that said, there is a scattering of collaborations on this album with some big names ranging from Computer Jay, Gonjasufi and Daedelus to name a few. So, after a series of EP’s and numerous features though here is his first full length album ‘Breakthrough’ on Brainfeeder came out on the 17th.
Breakthrough has 17 tracks but comes in around 45 minutes long but it just rolls by because Benussen brings out a lot of ideas and covers a lot of ground keeping the listener moving constantly – you never get ‘comfortable’ in this album given the brevity of a lot of the tracks. The first track after the intro ‘Veins’ showcases a lot of features that recur across the album: strings (cello), atmospheric and sinister sounded picked guitars and spoken/sung word samples and narratives. Veins is a good opener in this respect and distances Breakthrough from his contemporaries emphasising his psychedelic influences that I like so much. I did feel that this could have been longer though, the idea was nice but abruptly finishes. ‘Holy Mt Washington’ has some percussion and electronic bass in it and this song brings out what I think Benussen does so well which is essentially more with less, although Holy Mt Washington does feel only partially realised despite having some interesting sounds and well put together arrangements. This is the case with the next track ‘Father’ too unfortunately that feels like filler. However, the following track ‘Critics’ is beautifully moody and tense. I love the percussion on this song comprising of a stumbling snare drum beat and assorted cymbals. The picked, repetitious guitar work and bass makes this track interesting and an excellent pre-cursor to ‘Dead Vets’ that contains the same guitar tone and sounds but with this great organ feature – this song reminds me of 60s crime series for its evocative arrangement. There is an notable attention to details in this track featuring a glockanspiele hidden away in the background.
Flangeface is probably the highlight of the album however, the tracks before give the impression of leading up to it and certainly it goes the furthest to hold the attention of the listener containing a wide range of eclectic dub sounds. feedback loops, strings, noisy guitar and electronics and the most variety in dynamics and colouring. This showcases what Gaslamp Killer is capable of but sadly after Flangeface Breakthrough just isn’t as compelling as its first half. ‘Peasants, Cripples and Reatards’ has a great bassline and melodic feature but lacks depth. ‘Nissim’ has a lovely middle-eastern feel and atmosphere and the final three tracks are solid too but I’m left feeling unfulfilled – The Gaslamp Killer’s previous EP’s and the first release of Flangeface were all amazing and I was hoping for more of this. Despite being a slight disappointment this album has some inspired moment and great great sounds, the guitar and string work is fantastic, I just wish it had been pulled into a more mesmerizing, glitchy, bassy/electronic frame work. All the ingredients are tantalisingly here, it just doesn’t feel like an adventurous album.
Criticisms made I would only add that I think Gaslamp Killer has come up against a problem for a lot of first albums which is I think it is so hard for electronic musicians to move their live work to a fixed recorded form, the bass on this album warrants a live performance. Before judging this album too harshly I would want to see The Gaslamp Killer do this live – which from what I have heard, is pretty awesome.
However, some great sounds and it’s an interesting album.