Review: Ben Butler & Mousepad – Formed For Fantasy

Ben Butler & Mousepad is the musical alias of Glasgow-based keyboardist/composer/producer Joe Howe, with the accompaniment of drummer Bastian Hagedorn. A solo project (insofar as Howe is the sole composer, and the music on offer is very much synth/electronics-driven), this is his debut album, following the promising “Infinite Capacity” EP. Howe and Hagedorn are joined on this album by various guest vocalists, in a move reminiscent of Battles’ latest offering (of which more another time, if I can be arsed).

After an atmospheric little spoken word intro in which Ben Butler is amusingly introduced to us as “The Guarantor of our MIDI Signals”, the title track kicks in and Mr Butler begins to set out his stall; a catchy, demented flurry of proggy disco-funk full of analogue-sounding bleeps and bloops (though it’s probable the vast majority of this album began life in a laptop) and, crucially, real drumming on actual drums.

It’s a strong opener, and both “Teenage Portal” and “Infinite Capacity” build on this solid foundation, throwing all kinds of musical influences into the mix. BB&MP are nigh-on impossible to nail down stylistically, not due to genre-hopping antics a la Mr Bungle, but rather the sheer quantity of styles that seem to have been chucked into their musical melting pot. On a basic level this is electronic dance music, but I feel certain a lot of dance fans would find nothing of interest here. The herky-jerky math rock rhythms, gleeful bursts of abrasive noise and forays into funk/soul (such as the Zappa-in-accessible-mood-esque “Design”) and synthpop would likely be off-putting to a lot of ears. Ben Butler personally aligns himself with the electronica sub-genre “Skweee”, but I’m nowhere near well-versed enough in that scene (yet) to say where and how his music slots into it.

At its best, this album manages to cram layer upon layer of warm, elastic synths, all manner of electronic blips and bubbles and screeches and howls, all battling it out with complex drum rhythms and sparse, highly processed vocals to create a unique and exhilarating take on electronic music. It’s funky, bizarre and, most importantly, genuinely danceable stuff. The highlight for me is undoubtedly “Machine Makes Fresh Ground”. which pushes those math and noise influences to the fore, with delightful mind-fucking consequences. Sadly, it’s an uneven affair, and certain tracks (“Brain Wave Surf”, for example) remain remarkably unmemorable even after repeated listens. Occasional missteps such as the irksome whiny semi-rap vocals on album closer “Nagra Fragor? OK Folga Mig” also help to undermine what could have been a brilliant debut album.

It is so hard to say who to recommend this album to, yet I do recommend it to you, yes you, whoever you are. No matter how broad you think your taste in music is, it is probable this album will fall, at least in part, outside your comfort zone. This was certainly true in my case, and that’s no bad thing.


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