Big Black Delta – whoRU812

4 out of 5
Label: eOne (digital)
Produced by: Jonathan Bates
My earholes rejected this on the first couple of listens as uninspired drone with one or two moments of flourish.  Of course, that was me expecting more Jonathan Bates Big Black Delta goodness, i.e. synth-blessed, dark, dancefloor-ready icy beats with Bates’ half-lovey, half-doom-laden lyrics, and that’s not what this album was ever intended to be.  As briefly described on his website, whoRU812 is all mood, minus, for the most part, melody.  I was aware of that, but the disc’s minimalism is still a surprise – though as my attentions opened up to it, it’s actually not such a far cry from BBD – and can easily fade into the barest of background music when you’re expecting / hoping for some element to peek through the electro wash and really grab you.
The turnaround for me came when going drown-out-the-world volume on my headphones.  whoRU812 immediately – literally, from the first track – blossomed into something much more than maintained notes.  Bates explains the experience as being split into two portions: one calming, one aggressive.  While certainly evident, I think there’s more of a progression than that, with the opener title track introducing us (and perhaps Jonathan) to whoRU’s open-ended mindset, slinking in with gracefully building tones and an eventual beat.  When your hearing is subsumed by the track, it’s overwhelming in a very positive sense: eye-opening; uplifting.  And so lifted, the combined sixteen minutes of the followup tracks Long Way To Go2 and RIPinPeace can afford to strip things down; RIPinPeace, for example, is a long sequence of held notes, and both the track titles suggest an even-keeled contemplation of life and death.  Then, with all the heavy subject matter thunked through, we can have a simple little guitar ditty – Brookes Was Here2a – to celebrate.
But doubt must invade.  atanos – perhaps meaning ‘immortal’ – is another drone entry, but it’s rippled through with elements of darkness that aren’t quite there in the skybound openers.  Fittingly, this gives way to the album’s “aggressive” half, which tears us apart viscerally with BR1B, likely one of the heaviest things Bates has ever written.  Followups BR2 and BR3 are shorter bursts, and not nearly as loud, but if we view this whole thing as an emotional cycle, it makes sense – you get your fits, then your smaller outbursts.
And then you’re done, exhausted by the whole thing, which is represented by the barely-there concluder jakeAmo.
While I do wish that some of these concepts had been fleshed out and pushed more – the ‘interlinking’ moments feel unnecessarily drawn out – I accept that this was an album that needed to be made for Bates’ well-being versus one with sequencing and singles in mind.  That it does translate into an effective and rather emotional listening experience is a boon, one for which we can appreciate Jonathan opening up and getting this material out to us.

 

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