BT has long been one of the more interesting purveyors of electronic music—but more specifically, electronic music that has a heart. Techno and electronic music in general are often derided as soulless art forms requiring no further skill than turning on a drum loop and mashing a few synth keys down. BT has long set out to disprove that with his music and remind the listener that there can be not only a heart, but an organic quality to the music as well (he did release an album called Emotional Technology). This route did eventually make him start to sound a bit worn out, so he turned to vivid experimentalism in his approach for These Hopeful Machines and it succeeded in making his music interesting again. It was a difficult listen, but it rewarded those willing to give it a chance.
But his most recent, A Song Across Wires, is disappointing and uneven. Worse, it feels like backpedaling—borne of a worry that his last release alienated a large number of his core fanbase, so here he is now to say “Hey, I can still do that classic techno you all know and love! Look, I even have electro-vocal-standbys JES and Nadia Ali with me! Please, come back?” Unfortunately, the result is only worth coming back for in small doses.
“Skylarking” ushers in a grand, sweeping classic techno rise and fall anthem, albeit one that shows BT has a flourish of his own, which keeps it from sounding too generic. And just as quickly as things seem off to a great start, “Letting Go” derails things in one fell swoop. Electronic music has always been known for gleefully making a mess of the typical verse-chorus-verse song structure, and BT is no exception to this rule. It sounds fine for the most part, until even the somewhat defined verse-sentence-stop barriers are just ignored, verses come to a screeching halt midway through, and dubstep breaks the hammer away out of nowhere, clearly wedged in and most certainly not a part of a unified whole. Too often, it feels like a calculated sop to the rise of Skrillex, Deadmau5, and their ilk. Once again, it isn’t really poorly done dubstep, but it feels a bit too forced to really be that enjoyable.
The second half of the album fares much better—provided listeners can make it that far. “Love Divine”, “Surrounded”, and even to a lesser extent “Must Be the Love” still sound like retreads, but this time come off more like an old pro showing everyone how it’s done—and done very well. It still makes the listener wish he’d kept up with his experimentalism, but there is something worthwhile in someone hewing to their strengths and embracing those strengths to make the kind of music they do best. There is an extended single track mix of the entire album—and while it makes some of the more disjointed songs flow better, it’s still hit-or-miss. Even with the complete mixes of all tracks blended together, allowing for more gradual interludes and between song transitions, the aforementioned problems still surface—and the extended versions sometimes mean there are simply more of these problems to get past when listening to it.
BT hasn’t released a full-out dud here—but he has put out something that is far less interesting than he is truly capable of doing. Future releases may yet show a return to that wild experimentalism, but for now, BT by the numbers is the name of the game.
- Multiple songs Website
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.