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Favorite ThisThe Gaslamp Killer: Breakthrough Review

Published: October 3, 2012
By: Chris Schwarzkopf

Where to begin to explain The Gaslamp Killer’s new release, Breakthrough? I suppose, right off the bat, it’s necessary to say that the album is purely and solidly experimental in nature and, as such, will not appeal to every taste. Most will no doubt be turned off by it. Those that enjoy it will do so thoroughly and for a myriad of reasons, one not more valid or correct than another. And they will defend it vigorously, too. Either way, lively discussion will no doubt ensue after a listen to Breakthrough. And opinions will likely be sharply divided.

Understand that the label of “experimental” is not meant as a slight. To be fair, William Benjamin Bensussen’s style has always tended toward the outer edges of electronic music. By itself, being categorized as experimental should not be a reason to view a performer’s work with scorn. And Bensussen has assembled a diverse collection of artists who are as experimental as he is.

Though it may not appeal to a wider audience, many listeners will still find something appealing among Breakthrough’s sixteen songs.

Take, for instance, the second track, “Veins,” featuring one of The Gaslamp Killer’s frequent collaborators, Gonjasufi, who appears once more later on the album. Stark violin and cello calls to mind the Beatles toward the end of their career.

Another track that caught my attention is “Nissim” featuring Amir Yaghmai playing a Turkish stringed instrument known as a yiali tambur. It begins slowly with long pauses between sudden bursts of notes and then moves into a steadier melody. An incredible sadness and loneliness informs this song. Other contributors include SAMIYAM, Computer Jay, Dimlite and Daedelus.

One interesting aspect of Breakthrough’s sixteen tracks is that each is self-contained, operating according to its own internal theme and logic. Hearing one track gives no insight into how the next will sound. The album has no overarching narrative or theme and it’s best to approach all of the songs individually, as vignettes.

Even so, a strange sense of horror hovers over the entire album. Call it, even, a sense of impending doom. The ragged, rough-hewn sound of the music only adds to this. 

Most of the tracks on Breakthrough are no more than a couple minutes in length. The final track, “In The Dark…” is the longest, coming in at nearly six and half minutes.

The music lends itself to a great deal of referencing of other artists. The Chemical Brothers, The Animals, The Zombies, John Lennon as a solo artist, even Frank Zappa at his most sublime all spring to mind. Whether this is deliberate or incidental is open to debate. Those references may exist, but Breakthrough is its own album.

Fans of The Gaslamp Killer will already know what to expect. For those who are coming into the music for the first time, a piece of advice: approach Breakthrough with an open mind and with no reservations. So much is going on in this album. It may take repeated listening sessions to pick up on it and to begin to appreciate it.