Graded on a Curve:
John Bence,
“Kill” EP

Bristol, UK-based composer and producer John Bence has two releases in his discography, both EPs released on vinyl: 2015’s “Disquiet” on the Other People label of Nicholas Jaar and 2018’s “Kill” on the Grooming imprint of Yves Tumor. The latter initially came out in an edition of 100 copies on one-sided wax and was then given a clear vinyl run of 200. Needless to say, not many folks own a copy, but Thrill Jockey is remedying that situation with a third press, also clear and one-sided, which, due to Covid-19 plant closings, is now releasing August 21. However, the brief three-part suite is out digitally July 10, with the 12-inch available for preorder. It’s a work of considerable depth and narrative power.

John Bence’s “Kill” is indeed a short affair, at 14 and a half minutes only slightly longer than “Disquiet” (which has vinyl copies still available, try Forced Exposure). But his first effort is markedly distinct, being the byproduct of a composition for soprano voice and cello that was recorded and then manipulated by Bence, with this process repeated three more times.

While “Kill” is appropriately billed as an EP, due to narrative cohesion and gripping intensity, it lingers in the memory like a much-longer work. This is not to underrate “Disquiet,” which is a piece, also in three movements, of substantial beauty and unpredictability, and doubly impressive as it was conceived when the composer was just 19 years old.

“Kill” was written and recorded during a six-month residency at the FUGA space in Zaragoza, Spain, with its impact musical but also thematic. In Bence’s words, it “tells the story of a murderer who kills his lover, commits suicide and then accelerates towards God to be judged.” Given that description and considering Bence’s youth, newbies might fear that “Kill” will be the work of an insufferable edgelord, but thankfully, that’s not the case.

Consisting of three sections, “Kill/Aftermath,” “Alone/Suicide,” and “Afterlife/Judgement,” that can suggest the outline for a script to a horror movie (this is underscored by the related specificity of a man killing his lover), Bence avoids succumbing to obviousness or triteness through leavening the expected explosions of extremity with longer portions that are engagingly atmospheric.

While there are screams from Bence, his operatic singing, Gregorian chanting and a riveting tribal motif in the first section are far more prominent, providing tension (one could call it suspense) and moments of release that sustain repeated listens, though “Kill” isn’t a recording that really encourages multiple spins within a concise timeframe. On the other hand, it’s not a draining experience.

To Bence’s credit, he knows when to quit. It’s easy to imagine a lesser artist drawing matters out and therefore dulling the effect. Hypothetically, this might occur through misjudgments in emphasizing the grizzly, and/ or magnifying the suffering (Bence’s screams are effective because they are sparse), and/ or amplifying the horrific in the afterlife. Here, Bence’s murderer presumably ends up in hell; in an inferior piece, this outcome would be wholly unambiguous.

Instrumentally, “Kill” is full-bodied but also precise and at times even restrained, featuring cello strings plucked like an acoustic bass along with percussion and symphonic elements, but also passages that resonate like contemporary electronic ambience (“precession instruments” made by Bence were also used). It’s a record that will very likely (I’m tempted to say surely) appeal to folks into the ominousness of non-dance Industrial and dark folk (post-Nurse With Wound-list stuff, in a nutshell) and even ears attuned to certain strains of art-metal and experimental noise.

“Disquiet” provided nary an inkling that its maker would head into this direction, with this circumstance another reason for “Kill”’s transcendence over the hackneyed. The choice of macabre topic sidesteps the miserablist (another victory for brevity) and sensationalist (it’s just too nuanced in that short span), with the results registering as inquisitive rather than transgressive. “Kill” is a work of curiosity leaving me intrigued over where John Bence will head next.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text