Release Date 02/18/2022
(MATH Interactive) NACC
As a performer, where does the authentic self end and the persona begin? What happens in the space where they overlap? These questions lie at the heart of Pantomime, the second full-length album from New York-based electronic artist Ben Shirken, a.k.a. Beshken. Following his recent EP Tendryl, the record focuses its attention toward “the split personality of a clown; a reclusive performer and an outcast entertainer. A dreamer but a misanthrope.” Embracing contradiction as a method of introspection, Pantomime pushes his sound into new genre-melding territory.
The dynamic project comes on the heels of national tour dates with Com Truise, Photay, and Altopalo in support of his 2019 debut record Aisle of Palm. Shaped by his Los Angeles upbringing where experimental, hip-hop, and d.i.y. shows exposed him to the boundlessness of electronic music at an early age, his work has also been featured by outlets such as Boiler Room, Office Magazine, Coeval, Noisey, and The Line of Best Fit.
Where Shirken’s earlier compositions might have steered toward trance-inducing patterns, Pantomime willingly roams into paradox through the introduction of live instrumentation. Much of the album came together out of improvisational jams with his NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music schoolmate and modular synth whiz Jason Park, Eastman-trained jazz drummer Matt Bent, (who he bonded with over a shared love for jungle and IDM), and classical pianist Jose Escobar. The group worked mainly at their shared Ridgewood, Queens studio, where Shirken resampled, reconstructed, and mixed what they played.
Set against Shirken’s voice, which ranges from a hypnotic baritone to a charged falsetto, the congruity of the group’s talents elevates his visceral lyrics to reflect a truth-bearing mania coursing through the album’s veins. It’s a world where the clown’s ego-shielding ruminations bloom into psychedelic flashes of universally-felt insecurities. “Will I ever see straight when I walk?” he wonders as he ambles over a rubbery bass line enveloped in siren-like synths on “M.I.A.”. Throughout the record, inward musings like these complement their sonic opposites on tracks like “Ella” and “Under Your Skin,” where soaring melodies float over vast, breathable landscapes aglow with hope. This dichotomy between soul-expanding freedom and constricting self-doubt in the face of the performer’s duty is the essence of what molds the record’s multicolored mood.
As a live experience, Shirken plans to build on a history of playing alongside indie, punk, and jazz bands as well as djs by mirroring Pantomime’s genesis onstage with a four-piece band. This will inject his traditionally electronic-leaning sets with elements of show-to-show experimentation and improvisation. He will also continue to work with and produce for bands at his studio in Queens while manning the decks for his semimonthly mix series, label and party 29 Speedway, which has been featured via channels such as Dublab, NTS, and The Lot Radio.