BEN CALHOUN is, by day, a carpenter in the construction industry, keeping body and soul together with a craftsman’s skill; the better to set up him up for when he slips inside that phone box, swiftly changing to emerge in his experimental soundscaper guise as bolomite jr.
And here today at Backseat Mafia, we’re pleased to tease for Cold Feet, his forthcoming album for Dear Life Records, with a single release, “Ants”: allow it to swathe and befuddle you below as it layers up in swirls and sonics.
Working these days in Philadelphia, Ben actually hails from a couple of hundred clicks north in Ithaca, NY. He was steeped in music from a young age, playing both piano and trumpet in classical recitals and with orchestras; after which, growing up and soaking up ever more recherché and wayward influences, he disconnected from that particular sphere of performance; fell out of love with music as offered maybe quite that vanilla. He sought, craved, innovation; something deeper, as yet unspoken.
After being spurred by a conversation with his older brother Jason, who himself released a brace of hugely limited experimental drone albums for Dear Life last year, Ben began to investigate the fractal production possibilities on offer through the Digital Audio Workstations package; since when he’s released a series of EPs and albums under the moniker bolomite jr, with his debut for Dear Life being the wired, fractured hallucination of HASTE in 2019, the year Ben returned to the stage for the first time under his new guise. That name? It comes from online gaming.
Yep, fractured, layered, hallucinatory, drawing on all sorts of strands and breaking them to reveal the soft musical marrow inside. Dive into “Ants”, below, which builds from semi-ambient loops, grainy and off-kilter; maybe a discorporate voice in there, stretched into drone blur, that gradually subsumes under repurposed chillwave synths, adding light melody but also a sense of discomfiture, sounding like some sort of tribal ritual memory meets Berlin tech-minimalism – Fela Kuti encounters Monolake in a fever dream; then again, further layers of clattering, rattling percussive action, almost nautical, all in eventual service to a skeletal, jazzy vamp. Whoah. And all in four and a half minutes.
Ben lets us inside his working practices: “The foundation of this track started with a looped sample from the Tortoise record, TNT,” he says.
“The origin of the sample doesn’t have much to do with the meaning of the track (though I do stan Jeff Parker), but it allowed for a pulse and tonality to emerge in which to build a synth line.
“I wanted the track to feel restless; to have an urge to move on yet feel totally bound by its foundation. While most of the track remains in that space, eventually a solo came together, one that almost erupts with emotion and briskly ends before it even begins.
“The structure came together finally, as I was sitting out in the yard of the house I grew up in, with my laptop. Feeling the activity beneath my feet, thinking about the possibilities of action, yet not quite wanting to act.”
It’s no abberation. Elsewhere, Cold Feet marries ghostly, looped cool jazz to hissing lo-fi breaks (“Mania”); flappingly loose guitar riffs married to cut-up ambience that temporarily evolves into a kind of Mo’Wax future funk (“Lost In Agrobah”); an almost Emeralds bliss-scape (“Cruising Mstr2”). Simple music this is not.
Ben says of the album’s title: “For me, having cold feet is a feeling I experience often: a surge of excitement followed by the dread of potential loss. A desire to show off and a terror that you might be caught in the act.
“This record is a reservoir for those feelings of insecurity revealed by these contradictory impulses.
“In many ways this album was founded conceptually on feelings that I first came to terms with while creating HASTE, but in this form I set out to dive deeper into my own insecurities as a pianist to create songs that felt a bit more personal.
“While on HASTE I felt like I had finally achieved a sound that resembled my influences, here I attempted to include more of my own playing, improvising, and voice leading to allow myself to sit in a space that felt almost songwriter-ish, yet constantly return to sampled loops or drum and synth passages that are rhythmic and very technology driven.
“Sound sources vary from analog synthesizers, digital samplers, and MIDI instruments.”
There’s the biographical confession from the main source; if you need a record that lights up lots of the grey matter, causing you to press rewind and slip ever deeper, don’t get cold feet about bolomite jr.
bolomite jr.’s Cold Feet will be released by Dear Life Records on digital download and cassette formats on January 29th; it’s available for pre-order right now over at the label’s Bandcamp page.