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Benjamin Finger, "Less One Knows"

cover imageOne aspect of Benjamin Finger's work that I have always appreciated is his drive to continually tweak and reinvent his sound with each new album. On this latest release, apparently his 14th solo full-length, he opts for a loose, stripped-down approach, focusing mostly on guitar sketches that often feel like the demo tapes for a solid shoegaze album. In some ways, it is quite remarkable how far Finger has moved away from the skewed, psych-damaged pop of early albums like Woods of Broccoli and Sombunall, but that trajectory makes perfect sense if his career is viewed like a disintegrating Basinski-esque tape loop: his pop sensibility has not disappeared so much as it has been ingeniously diffracted, distilled, and deconstructed into new forms with each fresh release. That said, Less One Knows has a stronger emphasis on hooks than a lot of other recent Finger albums and that is a welcome development. This album may not be quite as substantial as some of his other fare, but the comparative intimacy, melodicism, and fragility suit his aesthetic nicely.

Dead Definition

The introductory "Open Phase" is a fairly representative example of Finger's vision for this album, as a blurred and pulsing guitar motif is subtly fleshed out with additional layers before evolving into a more distorted and intense crescendo.The individual motifs do not follow a conventional enough structure to resemble a fully formed song, however, which makes the piece feel like a spontaneous improvisation.I suspect it was indeed exactly that, but it is an intriguing one nonetheless, as the various themes unpredictably reverse, flutter, and warble as the piece unfolds.There is also an ephemeral sliding motif that I wish Finger had built further upon, which is a bit of recurring theme with this release: plenty of great ideas casually tossed off without further development.That said, there are also some pieces in which Finger does fully capitalize on his more inspired ideas, as he does with the tenderly quivering descending chords in the lovely "Head Fading Blues."That simple and beautiful piece is unquestionably one of the album's highlights, but there are several other pieces in which Finger decisively hits the mark as well.I am especially fond of one of the album's two vocal pieces, "Crushed at Sea," which favorably recalls a disjointed and hallucinatory homage to classic '90s emo bands like American Football or early Promise Ring.At its core lies a legitimately good song with strong melodic hooks, but it is beautifully battered, corroded, and disrupted by backwards chords, squalls of guitar noise, and a patina of static.

The album remains fairly strong in the wake of "Crushed at Sea," as Finger had no shortage of inspired and varied ideas, even if he stopped shy of quite expanding most of them into fully formed songs.The best of the remaining pieces is by far "Still Dreaming Green," which is a gorgeously woozy and tremolo-heavy reverie that strikes the perfect balance between soulful and dreamlike.Elsewhere, "Foggy View" is a quietly lovely marriage of clean arpeggios with throbbing, burbling, and chirping electronics."Bothered Earwaves," on the other hand, sounds like the build-up and roiling, dissonant crescendo of a killer ‘90s emo/post-hardcore song, albeit one with some ghostly and psychedelic enhancements thrown into the mix.The droning closer "Fade Away" is noteworthy as well, as a processed guitar with a sharp, rattling texture lazily sweeps through the blissful haze.

If Less One Knows is viewed as a kind of sketchbook rather than a focused and complete new statement, it is quite a successful and absorbing one, as it is positively brimming with great ideas executed beautifully.I am easily able to find something to love about nearly every song on the album and Finger manages to maintain his distinctive voice even as he dabbles in a host of disparate directions.Of course, the catch with filling an album full of promising vignettes is that it can be maddeningly teasing at times and Less One Knows definitely left me with a feeling akin to eating a bunch of (admittedly tasty) snacks while fantasizing about a far more substantial meal.The one exception to that feeling is "Crushed at Sea," which is easily one of the most focused and melodic would-be singles that Finger has recorded in recent years (and one in which his own voice makes a rare appearance as well).Longtime fans will not want to sleep on that piece, nor will they want to miss "Still Dreaming Green."Aside from those highlights, Less One Knows feels like a relatively minor/transitional release within Finger's discography, but it is the kind of minor release that suggests that some major creative breakthroughs are currently taking shape in his Oslo studio.

Samples can be found here.