On Freak Machine, the genre-bridging progressive rock ensemble known as Ben Levin Group offers a jarring musical portrait of a man’s experience as his brain destroys itself. Inspired by the absurd sense of discombobulation brought on by unrequited love, the group draws from a vortex of seemingly disparate influences and absurd lyrics that weave together and fire off like neurons during a disaster or coitus. The group hopes to show that no matter how rattled heartbreak has left you, you’re doing a lot better than the guy in this story.
Composer and guitarist Ben Levin has been writing long-form works since 2010’s Pulse of a Nation, each piece continuing to escalate in scope and scale. Freak Machine, a four-movement, thirty-five minute epic, was composed over the course of a summer in Boston. Levin had just auditioned for Lady Gaga, learning her entire repertoire in the process. Dance music ensnaring his subconscious, the project was initiated as a way to pull the genre out of his head. As the writing progressed, however, the piece became much more than just an ironic poke at pop, and by its completion, Freak Machine had transformed into an unsettling personal archive of love and obsession.
There’s a powerful dichotomy between the euphoria and unbearable pain of infatuation, and Freak Machine encapsulates these opposites brilliantly. The beauty in the work lies in its directness, offering an extreme anecdote for rejection without being weighed down by the grace and wisdom of atonement. The album is by turns crude and elegant, examining the madonna/whore paradox and the suffocating pettiness of an unfulfilled life crumbling in slow motion.
Ben Levin, frequently lauded for his work as a guitarist and music educator, is stunning on recording, his playing more graceful and innovative with each subsequent release. The band - Jed Lingat (bass), Courtney Swain (vocals), Josh Friedman (keyboards), Chris Baum (violin) and Tyler LeVander (drums) - all Berklee College of Music alumni, dazzles as well, navigating the score’s complexity with ease. Freak Machine often feels like a concerto for the human voice, and Courtney Swain’s performance is nothing short of masterful. Having worked with the band for their past three releases, producer Vince Welch has truly come to form in his own right, honing and capturing Levin’s vision and the group’s musicianship masterfully.
A milestone in the career of the young composer, Freak Machine is a true work of art, unabashedly probing the repercussions of obsession and heartbreak. In a musical landscape that often feels bland and familiar, Ben Levin Group’s latest offering ventures down untrodden sonic paths, introducing us to a dynamic, challenging, and exciting new future in the world of progressive music.