The gist of “no man is an island” speaks true of all things, not just men, and we should never forget this with music. Context matters tremendously. For instance, if it happened to stop raining for long enough to spend a lazy afternoon in the sun, I would not want to listen to industrial techno. Lock me in a warehouse and I might change my mind. And if I learn something new about an album I will think of it different. Just as Bowie’s death turned Blackstar from anticipation to prophesy – from previous album to final – and it can never be listened to in the same way again.
The context of Radial can be guessed from title and cover: Benoit has fractured his wrist, and is trying to raise funds to cover hospital bills and lost income. The three selected pieces are not new but they are probably unheard. “The very center of its flame” was released with the deluxe edition PERILS, Benoit’s recent collaboration with Kyle Bobby Dunn, whereas “Madrigal” and Aphex cover “Stone in Focus” have been around as unmastered demos on Soundcloud for almost a year.
This final track gives the most direct window to Benoit’s sound. In his fractured hands “Stone in Focus” sheds its stoic seriousness for something more airy, forgiving and distant. Like an epiphany shot in polaroid, we’re not so much interested in photographed reality as with the overstated colours, nostalgic haze and memories attached to it. It invites a state of peaceful reflection peppered with quiet sighs. “The very center of its flame” and “Madrigal” trigger the same sensation, particularly the 22 minute-long former, although it weighs a bit heavier and a staccato ending gently carries us back to the present.
It is in this nostalgic state where context becomes so prominent. Those breathy drones invite comparison to the slow process of healing, as if their gentle reaching out mimics the movement of a strand stitching itself back together. Radical’s distance, too, puts us in the place of an artist held back from creating something new and forced to dig up the past. Most importantly of all, the act of buying the EP changes from duty to gesture, and in this expression of goodwill we move from consumers to people concerned. That the context adds to Radial instead of overtaking it completely can only speak volumes for the enduring force of Benoit’s work. – Jon Hunter