The Flashbulb – Love as a Dark Hallway

written by: April 1, 2011
The Flashbulb - Love as a Dark Hallway album cover Release Date: March 15, 2011


Now that music blogs are more common than McDonald’s and Subway combined (at 38 million search engine results, that’s 500 blogs for every lunch break), rock critics are a penny a pound. Still, for all the Christgaus, Frickes and Perpetuas pounding their keys day after day, you’d be hard pressed to name a jazz critic.

Jazz seems untouchable by mere mortal rock writers, even ones who can hyperbolize with the best of ’em. Whether dealing with the cerulean cool of Miles Davis, the Saudi-via-Seattle dynamics of alt-rock nighthawks Tuatara, or the futurismo lo-funk of The Flashbulb, it can all seem so adult. Rock music, meanwhile, has an eternally adolescent appeal (tellingly, when it got too self-important and bloated in the 1970s, punk knocked it down to size in just three chords). With no lyrics and as wide a palate of colors as the human mind, jazz feels like it should be critiquing us.

The Flashbulb is one Benn Jordan, a prolific jazz-influenced guitar noodler who never found a pseudonym he didn’t like and plays his axe upside down because he’s a lefty. As good a stereotype as any, left-handed people get automatic credit for being creative and different, and Jordan certainly makes an effort to temper jazz’s notorious opacity with more linear grooves and a hog’s portion of dance and rock influences. Still, he keeps things offbeat, twitchy and wordless.

His 10th album, Love as a Dark Hallway, sounds like you’ve got Radiohead’s King of Limbs playing in one browser with a smooth jazz K-Tel compilation streaming in another.

The results are somehow even more mixed than the influences. It gets downright soupy, especially on album bookends “Wake Up Gladiator,” where a slop synth line ruins the kinetic hybrid of Charlie Brown and Charlie Parker, and “We Are Alone in a City,” which must have propelled forward in time from some horrible ’80s movie soundtrack (the stadium rawk heroics bursting through schmaltzy keyboards are the likely catalyst). Even when evoking more current media, these busy arrangements make it hard to resist spitting some five-day forecast game before throwing it back to Bob and Diane for the “Clip of the Day.”

It’s not all a wash. The rare successful moments are the ones that exercise restraint, simplifying the ingredients list instead of overreaching for maximum flavor.

The yazz-free “Let Me Walk You to Your Honda” already wins with a knowingly down-to-earth title (compared to the more highfalutin “Tres Ebow”) and a humming house beat – even if it’s hard not to associate with a car commercial. “Virtuous Cassette,” the album’s centerpiece, stops time with a gorgeous three-note melody before a skittery drum machine pulses to life. It mentions a medium seemingly as antiquated as jazz itself and feels as real and tangible as analog – the fake tape fuckup near the end being the best part.

The title track gets points for like-minded pacing, but it’s a perfect example of Love as a Dark Hallway‘s secondary flaw: the disparity between Jordan’s virtuoso abilities and his end product. The guy named himself The fucking Flashbulb, so maybe “anything goes” is his M.O. anyway, but the song titles rarely jive with the emotion or scenario conveyed in the music (“Love In A Sunroom” would be a better fit), and most of what isn’t dull is absolutely unlistenable. The lefty stereotype holds true: what other album balances wince-inducing wankfests with arresting beauty?

When he achieves balance in a single piece, Jordan’s music betrays his experience level. Dude’s been at this for more than a decade and he is long removed from his college days where hoards of music performance majors probably lapped this stuff up. Too often, though, Love as a Dark Hallway still sounds like kids’ stuff.

The Flashbulb – Love as a Dark Hallway Tracklist

  1. “Wake Up, Gladiator”
  2. “Pastorial Whiskers”
  3. “The Basement Guitarist”
  4. “The Basement Community”
  5. “Heroes on Your Lawn at Night”
  6. “A Baptist Church in Georgia”
  7. “Virtuous Cassette”
  8. “Tres Ebow”
  9. “Let Me Walk You to Your Honda”
  10. “Teeming Disconnected”
  11. “Love as a Dark Hallway”
  12. “An Imperfect Song at a Gig That Never Existed”
  13. “We Are Alone in a City”
“Wake Up, Gladiator”
“Pastorial Whiskers”
“The Basement Guitarist”
“The Basement Community”
“Heroes On Your Lawn At Night”
“A Baptist Church In Georgia”
“Virtuous Cassette”
“Tres Ebow”
“Let Me Walk You To Your Honda”
“Teeming Disconnected”
“Love As A Dark Hallway”
“An Imperfect Song At A Gig That Never Existed”
“We Are Alone In A City”