Review: Hardworking Families – A Spirit in January (self-released, Aug 7)

The latest in a seemingly never-ending supply of pandemic-motivated live performance uploads, A Spirit in January comprises a “slightly trimmed” short set from earlier this year when in-person events weren’t yet a thing of the distant past. Brighton sound artist and all-around smartguy Tom Bench always seems to find new, refreshing methods to communicate the same elusive ambiguities and conspicuous emptiness that consistently surface in his work as Hardworking Families, and this release is no different, utilizing a miniature audio-theatre of small electronics in an extension of the synthetic slurs of Music From Box File, his release for the Amplify 2020 digital festival of a similar length—or perhaps it’s the other way around, since Box File may have been recorded after January. Regardless, it’s a superb slice of considered audio-chiaroscuro that hums with mysterious electricity at every moment, rumbles of noise and fragmented emissions hidden behind a muffling shroud of empty space, and I often found my attention being drawn more to the latter than the former. Like the two humbly harrowing halves of Hindered SoulBench centers one or multiple oddities in a weighty void as much under his control as the oddities themselves, creating curious paradoxes, dusty sonic spotlights, tightly “focused ennui.” It must have been a unique experience to witness this performance—being in the same room must have been like hearing the curated distillation of countless instances of server room errors and other ersatz electronic remnants—but listening after the fact provides its own pleasures.