Ben Frost struck critical gold with A U R O R A, so no one can really blame him for taking a little victory lap with the V A R I A N T EP. But rather than think of this as the latest release from Ben Frost, you’d be better off treating it as A U R O R A‘s dwarf companion. Benjamin Hedge Olson did rightly dub Frost as “one of the most fascinating experimental musicians in the world”, but the V A R I A N T EP won’t give you that impression because Frost isn’t pulling the strings here. There are three remixes of “Venter” by Evian Christ, Dutch E Germ and HTRK, a remix of “No Sorrowing” by Kangding Ray and a remix of “Nolan” by Regis, 27-plus minutes in all. Two of these five tracks can transport you to another place while the rest just marks time.
The Dutch E Germ is rather spooky – not because of the things you hear, but because of the things you don’t hear. After a tenuous start, the sounds start falling in heavy industrial-electro slabs. Then the silence comes out to play. Halfway through Germ’s mix, the sound is reduced to an eerie hush as it paves the way for a series of digital jabs that put one’s senses on edge. HTRK also know how to set up a good simmer. Here, “Venter” is sent for a cool glide where five minutes of buildup is gloriously concluded with a fade out. Between these two mixes and the Evian Christ one, none of them are a whole lot like the original from A U R O R A. And most of the time, that’s the best thing you can hope for from a remix album: variety.
The rest of V A R I A N T, maybe through no fault of its own, goes by unnoticed. What Kangding Ray do to “No Sorrowing” can best be described as taking some skittering noises out for a test drive and Regis’s Self Medicating Edit of “Nolan” has a nice moody, atmospheric glide that probably won’t change anybody’s mind about anything concerning Ben Frost. V A R I A N T goes a certain distance in showing off some of that good old remixed alternate shading. But not every one of those 27 minutes is a compelling one. The Dutch E Germ and HTRK remixes are bookended by some decidedly un-fascinating twists to what is an otherwise celebrated release. The sounds are attractive, sometimes unique, but a personality gets lost in translation. But we all know that remix EPs are only as good as the DJs’ ability to manipulate outside the box. And when the source material doesn’t always align with a certain DJ’s knack for unfolding a track, the project harmlessly drops out of sight, waiting to be exhumed by collectors. In other words, there’s always a next time.