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White Noise: BNJMN – Black Square

Friday, 28 October 2011

BNJMN – Black Square

Primal Pathways

Open The Floodgates

Bournemouth-based producer Benjamin Thomas has had a very busy year. Coming to the fore through last years Blocks, his debut LP on esteemed Dutch label Rush Hour was a curio; a collection of introverted tracks that felt both indebted to the future and the past, not to mention one of the most interesting releases of the year. So how could BNJMN follow this logically, and even harder, in such a short space of time? He looked outwards. On Black Square, Thomas presents the listener with a glittering collection of immaculately sculpted electronic tracks that are far more accessible than on Plastic World, but they don’t suffer from this accessibility at all. He uses dance tropes; bassy percussion, techno effects, to craft cerebral electronic compositions rather than dancefloor stompers, and every one of these tracks is a beautiful little world to explore.

The compositions on offer here are so lush and varied that it’s impossible to get bored. Take second cut Primal Pathways, in which low-key clattering percussion contrasts with a searing synthline, the two elements coming together in epic fashion towards the close. Every few moments there’s another sound to enjoy and explore that it makes each of these tracks a real joy to listen to again and again. Furthermore there is a fantastic sense of range from one track to the next; each gives you a lot to chew on and is entirely different from the others. To his credit, there is no direct emotional suggestions in these tunes, tracks like River Way and Black Square leave the listener to make their own associations. When a mood does become clear, such as the powerful Wisdom of Uncertainty, in which tumultuous loops sizzle against alien percussion and invasive synth stabs, it is only to drastically heighten the atmosphere, leaving this as a forcefully paranoid track.

Another interesting aspect of Thomas’ work is his reluctance to use vocals. This conflicts sharply with the sample-heavy dance scene of today, and makes the tracks far more ambiguous as there are no lyrics or vocal tones to tell the listener how to feel. When they are used, as in the fantastic vocal loop running intermittently through thrumming Keep The Power Out, they are twisted and looped almost beyond recognition as human voices to great effect, here sounding like the continuous wash of the titular flowing current. Elsewhere Open The Floodgates is an intricately produced techno stomper, with a solid 4/4 rooting bubbly synths, and it wouldn’t sound out of place in a dark Berlin dancefloor.

There are two remarkable things about the sounds that Thomas produces. The first is the range of these compositions, both compared to each other and inside their own structures. Each spans its own journey, with melodic lines occasionally appearing briefly before receding. They rarely settle into samey loops because Thomas adds so much detail, resulting in beautifully organic compositions. However there is always a central sound that anchors the track together, like Lava’s shimmering melodic line. A perfect example of this range is standout title track Black Square, in which new loops and textures form an evenly paced, low-key techno affair that builds to an explosive firework display of soaring synths, liquid bubbling and that all-consuming mechanical whir that holds the track together. The other notable aspect is the shear breadth of noises he ekes from his machines; wonderful beats, dehumanised vocals and most distinctively of all; scorching, too-bright synthlines that streak burnt trails across the sound, recurring throughout the LP. This all comes together to create a wholly immersive landscape through his rich and unique array of sounds.

If there is any downside to this collection, it is its brevity, both as an LP and in terms of each track. The tunes often sound like richly textured but incredibly short techno tracks, with all the progression of a nine-minute slowburner packed into four minutes or less. Personally, I like the decision to keep them concise, but it may bother others that the tunes are so densely layered if they prefer a slower techno progression. The real downside is that occasionally these feel like sketches rather than tracks (you hear that, Zomby?), for example River Way, one of the most promising compositions, ends just after a minute of playtime. I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt here and say that I like them as intended, and on the plus side for the majority of the time the short run-time works perfectly, as on haunting beatless closer Hallowed.  What does really feel a shame is that there are only nine tracks here, the whole lot clocks in just after half an hour, and it would be lovely to have more to enjoy. At least it’s not a huge problem, because the arrangements present are interesting and varied enough to keep revisiting.

I wasn’t expecting anything stunning when I first listened to this LP; but stunning is exactly what I found. These tunes are unique and cerebral, and each has the real power to transport the listener. Black Square is a lovely surprise; a concise set of glittering musical gems, discrete and polished, and each a joy to explore.


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