(Eilean Rec., 2015)
I put off listening to Pleasurably Lost for far too long. I know, I know, we’re talking about a few weeks, tops (the record came out in April, I received the promo in March, and I write this at the beginning of May), but still, it feels like my procrastination was a disservice to myself. I’ve listened to Oslo’s Benjamin Finger before (his previous album, 2014’s Mood Chaser, also on Eilean Rec., is another stunner), but never like this. Never like this. For some reason, I’m finding the immersion process here, as I listen, to be nothing short of transcendent. It’s like I’m being lifted on clouds toward celestial bliss at all moments, and neither the origin point nor the destination mean anything – it’s this whole trip, man, I’m telling you. Pleasurably lost indeed.
Finger works in all manner of composition, from electroacoustic soundscapes, to piano-led lullabyes, to sample-based hymns, to horn-inflected dirges, to minimal folk passages, to synthesizer ghost stories and back, never settling into a single groove or pattern, never overindulging in his ingredients. He’s restless without being overt, and experimental while remaining accessible. The tracks here are infused with deep nostalgia and emotion, but also a bright sense of wonder and optimism. Within seconds, Finger can go from melancholy to euphoric and back, and then do it again seemingly on a whim. It’s like he’s a god, playing with his listeners by manipulating their expectations, wringing maximum pleasure out of the push and pull of his cosmic forces.
Wait, did I just call this dude a “god”? Let me back up on that.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to marvel at what Finger’s doing here, right from track 1, “Diamond Earth.” He surprises by forcing a sample of a male voice singing right up front, although the words disappear as Finger chops up the sample, rendering the effect somewhat otherworldly – dare I say angelic? (I do.) Gentle piano appears, and other voices, perhaps from other planes of existence, ooh and ahh gracefully while sonic crickets chirp and squiggle. The effect is stunning, as it’s often difficult to place the sonics presented, and the track simply unfolds upon shimmering pastoral evenings. “Lull in the Momentary” follows, and strings are expertly utilized here as accompaniment rather than voices (although there are some vocal samples here and there). The effect is almost Books-like, if you can imagine Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto working in ambience rather than cut-up folk. The song ends with a sublime sample of a woman singing (opera?) with strings accompanying her, but it lasts for only a few seconds before dissipating.
It continues, with Finger pushing different tonal flourishes and flavors to the fore in each song, with all underscored by his heartaching piano minimalism. You can’t go wrong with any track, and I can keep discussing this for hours, but words are pretty much failing me. Maybe I should take a page from Benjamin Finger’s, er, dictionary, and make up some of my own: “Weepingdictionaryhands” gets the award for best song title on the album, and the muted horns that accompany guitar, cymbal taps, and samples recall, wait for it, the old Set Fire to Flames recordings (the title does too, as “Weepingdictionaryhands” can only describe those of the Lying Dying Wonder Bodies). Not the post rock ones, where Godspeed peeks through, but the musique concrète experiments. Here, Finger takes that aesthetic and marries it to minimal jazz.
Did I mention I’m frickin’ in love with this thing?
Pleasurably Lost is somewhat misleading in its description of the music contained within – perhaps Ecstatically Lost gets the point across a little better (for me, anyway). But the enjoyment is all yours if you decide to pick this one up, no matter the level. The record, inspired by Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke (which I haven’t read), whose exile in Argentina from his homeland during World War II (he ended up staying there after the end of the war) inspired his unique philosophical outlook and informed his somewhat surreal and absurdist takes on cultural clashes, is filled with symbolism and meaning and delivered with the utmost care. And if it’s coming from Eilean Records, you know it’s going to look stupendous. Bring it all together; bring it all home. This is one of the year’s best so far.
RIYL: Peter Broderick, Masaya Ozaki, Set Fire to Flames