- If the notion of a collection of new ideas or approaches tends to evoke a kind of clinical, technology-centric sound or the sort of experimentation that's more appealing on paper than on the record, then you probably haven't been listening to too much music in 2011. "Future music" no longer just evokes the servo systems of tomorrow's gizmos or some thousand-years-off megalopolises: from the deeply emotional digital flourishes of Machinedrum's Room(s) to the surprisingly high-definition smudges all over Andy Stott's last few releases, the future these days not only sounds eerily contemporary but extremely sensitive to raw human emotion.
BNJMN's Plastic World, though one of 2011's finest albums, actually didn't fit too well into this paradigm; rather, it sounded willfully science-fictitious, its expressionistic but deeply frequency bursts more of a piece with Metropolis than the broadband world. If Plastic World was an exercise (albeit an extremely rich one) in sound architecture, then Ben Thomas's follow-up, Black Square, takes the space he's constructed and fills it with life.
Black Square doesn't have quite the same aesthetic deep-focus of its predecessor, but BNJMN's artistic voice is a good deal more intelligible. From the warm, textured chords of opener-in-earnest "Primal Pathways," it's clear that Aphex Twin's ambient records are a major influence here, though Richard D. James isn't being aped: the skipping, naturalistic, brilliantly odd percussion that accompanies it ties this music in with the adventurous end of contemporary UK bass music, but with an ear for detail that's BNJMN's own. He pushes his sound out wider than before, with cuts like "Keep The Power Out" and "Black Square" bursting with warm ambience whose targeted emotion is deliciously unclear.
Even when a track seems to evoke just one feeling, as on the seedily electro-tinged "Wisdom of Uncertainty," we sense BNJMN is saying more than he's letting on. The album hits its own sort of epic stride in the second half, with the appropriately titled "Open The Floodgates" gathering all the free-floating emotion of the early tracks into a kind of teary-eyed club banger. The slower and denser but equally pounding "Lava" and the beatless synth etude "Hallowed Road" provide the sober, somber comedown. Perhaps what's so different this time for BNJMN is that he sounds anything but detached: whether or not this music is personal, listeners will almost certainly experience it that way. Black Square is as expansive as it is inward-looking, but most notably, it's alive.
02. Primal Pathways
03. Wisdom of Uncertainty
04. Keep the Power Out
05. Black Square
06. Open the Floodgates
08. River Way
09. Hallowed Road