a musical journey into color and space 

Andreina Prado

This is a mind of Big Black Delta
Big Black Delta is a product of Jonathan Bates' out-of-this world imagination. The music feels as if the past, present and future are all taking place at the same time and in some other universe. Plagued or aided by synesthesia, Bates’ mind is bursting with colors, odd shapes and patterns, which he somehow translates into music. In interviews, he claims that he's “trying to take a picture and score it.” When he describes BBD, he sees “a purply, black goop with a twirl on top of it.” Despite the fact of being categorized as electronic music, BBD is much more than that. It's dance-y, has the propulsive energy of pop and the direct force of rock. And all of these elements are topped off by Bates’ high-pitched tenor, which he uses to create a hazy, hypnotized and fragmented aural landscape. These are qualities that would normally clash; however, in the case of BBD this curious amalgamation of styles is not only what you want, but also what you need.

BBD has released only one album, this summer’s appropriately self-titled, Big Black Delta. I first experienced BBD live about a year ago and felt that when the concert ended I had snapped back to reality, while leaving behind a more vibrant and kinetic one. I wanted to hang onto that experience, both Bates’ world and the journey of returning to ours. Thankfully, the album has all of the contradictory aspects that make the live show so compelling. Time collapses, you leave reality and return to it in a state of excitement, alertness and yearning.

The first single off the album, “Side of the Road” begins with a catchy, marching band drumbeat and pounding synthesized keyboards. Bates’ lyrics are both dreamy and specific: “I can look ripped as you/Look to look beautiful, love/But this one/Is all I ever need.” His desire is directed, but everything else floats away. There are moments where all the sound seems to stop and you’re suddenly alone and then just as suddenly the music returns and you’re in the BBD world again. This pattern is repeated throughout “Side of the Road” until the last minute where it drifts into a swirl of synthesizers that resemble an ambulance siren: is it a warning signal to return to reality or perhaps a sign of desperation and panic? Bates never lets us ascertain the true nature of the siren and that’s what makes the effect so haunting.

The shortest song on the album “X22” feels as if you are caught in the surf, pounding against the shore of a beach. The waves just keep coming again and again and again and they’re faster and faster and faster and bigger and bigger and bigger. By the end it seems as if each wave contains all the debris of the ocean. Like with “Side of the Road,” the presence and absence of Bates' voice allows for wild fluctuations in mood. Here Bates sounds like he's been put in a trance and told to chant along with a machine. When his vocals drop out about half way through the song, all we’re left with is pure rhythmic intensity, the violent coupling of a thrashing synthesizer and pounding drum beats. When Bates starts singing again, it feels as if the song is at war with itself. The raspy “woooooo” that ends it is almost unbearable in its intensity. The song ends abruptly, as a cymbal gently trails off—it’s a breath of fresh air to the thrashing noise that comes before it. We've experienced something, but what is the question.

“Ghostrider” starts off and continues so fast that it’s like being dropped into an action movie or video game and we just have to keep up with the music. Bates doesn’t sing in this song, it's as if he’s acknowledging that it has almost no human qualities—it’s all machine. “Ghostrider” is BBD at their most insistent and violent. It repeats just long enough for us to familiarize ourselves with a pattern and then ruptures and mutates that pattern in a series of jarring transformations. It’s not particularly pleasant or easy to follow. One might say that the song seeks to annihilate the very order that it creates. Listening to it is like being caught in an endless contradiction and it’s no wonder that Bates didn't add any words to accompany such an alienating experience.

He will bring you back from hell
The songs at the end of the album, “Dreary Moon”, “Love You This Summer”, “PB3”, “The Zebrah (Accelra Remix)” are dreamy, peaceful and just glide along. Their placement at the end of the album seems strategic. They return us to a stable state of mind and feeling after songs like “X22” and “Ghostrider”. In the song “Love You This Summer”, the last song in the standard version of the album and the third to last song in the deluxe version, we ease into a steady, mellow, quiet beat with synthesizers providing a soothing and dreamy background to the bluesy-acoustic vibe of the song. Bates vocals come in with a soothing chorus of “Oooooooo’s” that foreshadow and mimic the synthesizers. When he first sings the repeating lines, “I wanna love you this summer/And in the winter time” it feels grounded, normal, a natural expression a of casual and passionate relationship, but as his voice melts into the synthesizers these simple lyrics take on a spacy vibe that feel anything but grounded. In a highly unusual move for a love song his voice just fades away about half way through and we’re left to drift in the calming weightless instrumentals as they fade away. In the BBD world, much like in our world, when you say, “I love you,” there might be no one there.

Like his live shows, the album is both chaotic and calming. Or more to the point, what BBD upsets, it ultimately puts back in order. The BBD experience is otherworldly, but Bates is always there to guide you through the rough spots and to ultimately take you back to reality. It’s a trip I highly recommend. I’ve gone a few times and I’ve always come back the better for it.

A beautiful mind bursting with color and sound
©The CCA Arts Review and Andreina Pardo

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