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By society’s standard, the word ego has seemingly become fully equated with narcissism. Though webster will exclaim that in a certain form, that is correct, there are other aspects of the word that demonstrate a state of being that’s equated with self esteem, and rooted self-respect and assurance. The latter definitions better describe the debut project from Benign & Roy Hessels, two separate musicians who came together to release Ego on the 2ism Records imprint, which specializes in bringing together two artists to work together to achieve one collaborative project.
Bringing together Brussels, Belgium based, atmospheric inspired Benign with Utrecht, Netherlands electronic musician Roy Hessels is a sonic marriage that works together in the most joyfully threatening way possible. Where Hessels fills sometimes strives for a more organic, guitar laced downtempo vibe, Benign compliments with controlled rhythms and exuberant glitch-esque breaks.
The chemistry on Ego is instantly felt on the first track in which the two join forces. In fact, the collaboration is so seamless that there’s almost really no focus on debate over which artist played which part in which song. Sure, there are a few solo tracks along the project, but when the two come together on “Interlude,” it’s lethargic guitar licks and synthesizer drops and sputters play out like Pink Floyd trapped in a world of psychedelic neo-soul that’s trying to find light through electronic darkness. Experimentally, the more optimistic sections of this interlude begin showing their opposition toward the middle of the song when they begin to be played backwards. At the end, rising and lowering pads further demonstrate this optimistic vs. pessimistic play and flow right on into the Hip-Hop inspired, minimalist “Dyssomnia”.
Broad classifications of sleeping disorders, known as dyssomnia, fit into Ego‘s realm quite perfectly as Hessels and Benign seem to be striving through this album to find a place of peace within battles of today. What better way to describe this and explore it through the conscious and unconscious parts of one’s full day? The groove on “Dyssomnia” is one of toned strength, which allows guitar and piano portions of the track to show that while they’d like to drift off, they have to stay with the groove, quite like the mind racing, but wanting to fall asleep during the night. Quite clever, right? A sort of lecture plays toward the track’s middle half and while a lot of these words blend into the mix of the song, they play out through some gorgeous chord changes that appear in the last minute and a half of the song, one sentence sticks out the most in the mix, “When was the last time you enjoyed silence? Genuine silence. And you wonder why people can’t sleep?!”
Backtracking, the first two tracks are strictly Roy Hessels. The technology based sounding introduction pitches down and time stretches vocals that pulse along the lower frequencies of the mix, end, and bring in the extremely Burial inspired ”My Refuge”. In opposition of the introduction, vocal samples are pitched up, manipulated and stuttered while a deep-alternative dubstep sounding production unfolds in traditional electronic composition. Reverberation and delay techniques play a large part in the cornerstone of this song, as well as the album as a whole. During the middle of the song, there is a main synthesizer solo that fadedly delays out, faking a premature end to the song, but quickly slaps the listener back in the face and comes back for more. While this Hessels track is the song most derivative of the underground-alternative electronic scene, it’s quality at it’s best and comes across more as a contemporary refuge than an imitation prison.
“Longing/Lost” follows as a Benign solo track and begins at a slow atmospheric crawl, phasing out the Burial-isms, but keeping vocal samples interpolated. The song slowly works into a wildly paranoid sense of rhythm, while repetitive pads and background synths lend themselves to a conglomerate sense of stereo imaging that’s quite impressive. The pieces fit together, along with a primarily mid-range focused/punchy-compressed kick drum, and create one of the densest, most layered movements on this debut.
Continuing with the dual names, which seems like a play on two separate things coming together, “Void/Fall” is another Benign song, toward the end of Ego that finds itself building up from a slow progression, into a tense state of production. Right before the song’s final movement, there is a portion of the song that plays in a high octave, then drops before a pad is cleverly invented and manipulated through the human voice. It does get a bit busy in the higher frequencies of this song, and in “Hiroshima,” but interestingly supplies an interestingly emotional technique. There’s a difference between distortion and frequency fighting because of lack of attention to detail, and when it’s used for creative intent. This is definitely creativity being used.
While we’re covering “Hiroshima,” it’s filled with drum and bass trepidation, and distorted, in your face horror. The most schizophrenic, unfocused song on Ego finds itself moving through deep-dubstep bass-lines, while manipulating the lead synth to purposefully march into notes that are one hundred percent out of key. Would you expect something else from a song with a title of Japan’s city that’s most noted for the terrifying events during World War II? Coincidence? We don’t think so. “Power To The Beast” seems to explore the more humanistic themes of war and the internal affiliation with religion. A man quite muscly makes statements about nations with no values, and having no faith in God or Jesus Christ.
“Conviction” is the most ambient, minimal track on Ego and not surprisingly is the most emotional. There aren’t too many layers on the song, but the ones that are there definitely find themselves having a lot of programming and reverberation and delay techniques applied to them in order to make the depth of the mix sound euphoric and larger than life. It’s a Roy Hessels solo track and gently unfolds through stereo panned melodic aspects and a low, sixteenth note synth bass. Toward the end, it’s standard build up could be compared to a more layered Moby project from the Destroyed era, mixed with Mux Mool’s beautiful deep grooves.
One thing that sticks out on the Benign & Roy Hessels project is how wonderfully mastered the project is. Christopher Leary, who has mastered Twoism Records’ “One on Twoism” compilation albums, has a knack for creating the most cohesive space for the final mixes of songs to live in. He’s the icing on the cake to a wonderful auditory feature and while not much is known about him other than a quick Google, he’s a rising star to the mastering profession and is to be commended for his attention to fine detail and being able to enhance the overall product of the projects he’s taken on in his career thus far.
By the end of Ego, there’s one final seven minute journey that aggressively explores the subtitles of downtempo electronic music. “Shadows” ties together, in cinematic fashion, the creepy and disturbing underlying feel of the record.
The Outro seems to be meant to snap the listener back into reality. That is, the facade of which is put on to disguise societies problems. It’s crowd-sourced recording plays prominently along with a warbling rhodes sounding. “If you think about it..” is the only phrase that can really be made out through the entire outro, and if you think about, Roy Hessels & Benign carve out one hell of a commentary on a lot of different subjects that span from political, to social, and beyond.
The Outro shows the ego of Earth in a sense, the dignified sense that throughout the religious, political, and social discord that’s happening around us, we’re always able to see the good, or the self-esteem that each of us puts on to face the day.
Perhaps Ego does show all senses of the definition after all.
Download Ego by Benign & Roy Hessels via Bandcamp on April 12th, 2012. The link will update accordingly, but for now check out 2ism Recordings website for more information and check out 2020k EP for my take on Roy Hessel’s song “Slightest Touch”.