BEN CALHOUN has been quietly working away for a while now, leading a double life as a construction worker-cum-experimental musician having begun using Digital Audio Workstations as a creative tool way back in 2014, reconnecting him finally to a performative sphere as a childhood musician he’d left behind
Since then he’s digitally released a series of EPs under the name Bolomite Jr., culminating in the physical release on cassette of HASTE last year.
And now this, Cold Feet, his new album, due for release on January 29th courtesy Dear Life Records. Cold Feet marks a wacky and assured experimental blend of electronica and classical; MIDI instruments, synths and samplers meet jazz, pianos and classical instrumentation. It’s quite frankly bizarre, in the best possible sense of the word.
Cold Feet will be available for digital download and, like with Haste, on cassette. Cassette!
Of course, cassette sales, though low, have been on the rise for a while now, predominantly purchased by people too young to have experienced the pain of an insatiable cassette player repeatedly eating tapes, or the Herculean struggle of using a pencil to pull the spaghetti-like tangles of chewed-up tape back into the cartridge. Nevertheless, now that the underdog of music consumption has been dragged out of retirement by hipsters, cassettes are rapidly rising with a popularity that will inevitably be boosted by nostalgia-based buys in the pandemic.
And when electronic music is considered, well, cassettes and electronica go back years. The roots of contemporary industrial and techno can be traced back to the cassette culture of the early ‘80s, with cassettes allowing for experimentation and music production at a relatively low cost.
And so, Cold Feet’s release on cassette certainly feels fitting.
The album’s opener, “Mania”, kicks off with snippets of jazz over a muffled beat, all trills and glissandos, notes flying all over the place with the anxiety-personified sound that is characteristic of free jazz. There’s a skilfully conjured sense of space in this track as the sounds appear to emerge from different directions, electronic tones and whirls zipping past your ear, but it’s worth mentioning that this is clearest when listening with earphones, so may be lost in the album’s cassette format. Nevertheless, “Mania” is still a strong opener as it continues to build with the introduction of a rattling hum and a low, rumbling note cuts through it all, subtly resonating under the controlled chaos with a startling clarity.
It’s followed by “Lost In Agrobah”, in which the looped drumbeat pins the drones and fluttering pieces of melody together; then it’s straight into “Fever Dream”, one of the album’s standouts. Opening with fragments of sickly-sweet melodies composed of video game-like beeps, these airy motifs struggle for centre stage before the chords kick in, claiming the spotlight as their own as they’re played suddenly in blocks, in a way that’s distinctly reminiscent of house piano. This satisfying, saccharine sound doesn’t last long, though; as the track’s title suggests, it soon turns sour. The piano is chased away with the dense, droning chord that steadily grows as the dream turns into a nightmare. Then Bolomite Jr introduces a new melody, sinister and jarring and certain to leave you waking up in cold sweat, before “Fever Dream” runs straight into “Phineas”.
“Phineas” is an admirable collision of styles, kicking off with a hip-hop beat overlaid with dainty, looped piano scales. And that’s just for starters. Soon the piano dies out, replaced with a bombardment of sounds from all directions; buzzes, hums, drones and blips, with the occasional almost-hook emerging from the chaos. And, just as you grab hold of one melody, it’s gone again, dissolving into the sounds whilst you’re left like Alice unsuccessfully grabbing at tree roots whilst falling down the rabbit hole. An enjoyable trip, mind you.
Onto “Biking”, a warm, sunny affair with more classical instrumentation over a booming bass beat, which tees us up for “Cruising”. Although the influence of musique concrète is felt across the entirety of Cold Feet in another nice link to the tape-tradition, it’s in “Cruising”, with its samples of what sounds like everyday noises that it’s at its most clear. Gurgling bubbles, distorted drills and feedback squeals are combined with syncopated beats, and a low, wavering rumble of synths in what should be a deeply unnerving listening-experience, yet which somehow remains strangely peaceful as Bolomite Jr guides you through his kaleidoscopic jumble of sound, conjuring patterns and shapes from the mix as he does so.
“Saturnalia” features another beautiful mix of classical and electronic, with soaring string arrangements and loops of piano scales hovering above a rattling beat, beeps and drones. It’s immediately followed by “Ants”, a dreamy soundscape that merges the industrial with the soothing, sleep-inducing sounds of a storm. Opening with the wail of a distant siren layered with a patter of rain, the track builds from a gentle start into a thundering tropical storm. Then comes a metallic twang that bounces across the scraps of melody, electronic tones and a hissing snare-like drum machine beat, with the whole track completed by an underlying, hollow melody that sounds like a windchime caught in the storm.
“//88X88” has a jangling motif that sounds like it’s been snatched straight from a video game whilst the following “10th May”, has an almost danceable beat, albeit a beat that is partly composed of a cowbell. And then, just when you’re getting into the swing of things – piano. A soft tinkle of ivories initially but then the piano rebels against its pushy parents and the classical is swapped for something far more akin to house piano once more, all above the ever-constant hiss of the drums.
After the abrasive, industrial, noise meets ethereal, trembling synths in “Shuffling”, it’s onto the distortion-drenched “Bonus Beat” and then “Avert your iiii’s”, which features a striking though muted melody that brews and bubbles away under the scratching drones.
And then the final track, “Cold Feet”, brings the album to a close. Gently easing you in, it builds from a few, glimmering notes before a heavy, menacing beat is added, thudding along and shaking the whole composition in the process, yet somehow never drowning out the electronic blips and tones that chime in the background. And when the beat drops out the whole track then reforms, shifting into a lively, playful affair to end the whole album on an uplifting note instead.
A properly and deliciously strange serving from Bolomite Jr, Cold Feet is a fascinating album and one that certainly whets the appetite for more experimentalist releases in the future. Just hope that your cassette player doesn’t eat it!
Bolomite Jr.’s Cold Feet will be released by Dear Life Records on digital and limited edition cassette formats on January 29th; you can pre-order your copy from Bandcamp, here.