My music review blog posts are regularly scheduled for Friday’s but I can’t help writing today about Ben Sharp and his nearly-anonymous one-man bedroom music production called Cloudkicker.
I discovered him on bandcamp two years ago – he was at the top of the metal and progressive charts there – still is. I immediately gravitated toward his music because of two things:
- Its minimalism
- Its diatonic tonality
The year I graduated college in 1996 a began a 3-4 year obsession with minimalist music of the classical sort. Steve Reich, and to a lesser extent Philip Glass and Terry Riley were idols. I listened to Reich’s classic Music For 18 Musicians about a zillion times:
Well it turns out this young Ben Sharp fellow held the same fascination with Reich as I did, and we’re about the same age – he a bit younger.
Sharp’s other admitted influence is the progressive, experimental metal band Meshuggah, who produce something akin to minimalist metal, but of the most aggressive, cold and disturbing quality. But there’s a common quality to Steve Reich and Meshuggah – its the almost trancelike meditative state you can drift into when listening to those angular, repetitive and interlocking rhthyms. The only problem with Meshuggah is the singer – he’s a first-rate growler, but he only distracts from the most intriguing part of the band’s music, which is the instrumental.
That’s the gap Sharp fills with his music – there are no vocals. Its just pure chug and drive and djent.
But rather than deliver some wordless Meshuggah, which would be highly atonal and dissonant, Sharp sticks to functional or at least modal harmony, ala Reich.
To me its the best of both of those two weird worlds – Rechian minimalism and Swedish desolation.
This track from Sharp’s 2010 album Beacons is his best. The first half is invigorating harmonic movement coupled with those repeating, interlocking rhythms. The second half is a masterful slow climax and gradual overlaying of harmonic and rhythmic elements, straight out of the Reich playbook. He also does some brain-defying tricks with a sustain pedal:
Part of Sharp’s allure to fans and the niche online music community interested in this “djent” metal style is his secluded habit. He doesn’t play live, doesn’t release videos, doesn’t have his own domain, and generally does no marketing or PR. Oh, and neither does he charge for his music except in physical formats. Pretty intriguing guy