Album Reviews

Big Black Delta – Big Black Delta

(Masters Of Bates) UK release date: 15 April 2013


Big Black Delta - Big Black DeltaBig Black Delta, the new project of Mellowdrone founder Jonathan Bates, first made a mark last summer with the release of the single iFUCKINGLOVEYOU. Unsurprisingly, it is one of the highlights of Bates’ debut album under this name. It’s a huge track, the kind that cries out for stadia to echo around and pyrotechnic displays to accompany it. The bassline line is muscular, the brass parts foghorn-like and the chorus a frenzy of double-time drumming and screaming choral voices.

Few bands sound quite so bombastic. The Joy Formidable have a comparable heft, but Muse are perhaps the only act who can match this with the combination of sonic weight, a palpable sense of drama and such a proud disregard for anything resembling restraint. Of course, when Muse started making music 15 or so years ago, no one imagined that they would evolve into such a cosmic-sounding band. Big Black Delta arrive with a debut album that has that cosmic scale, the impression of sounding too big to fit comfortably within the atmosphere of this planet, already in place. Admittedly Bates is not a musical novice, but this nonetheless takes ambition – not to mention balls.

It’s best not to dwell on the Muse comparisons for too long – Muse are essentially a rock band, and there is much more than that going on in Big Black Delta’s album. Indeed, the first few tracks suggest that this is a record that could function within the remit of dance music. Opener Put The Gun On The Floor is heavily percussive with urgent bass synths and seems to occupy a space somewhere between house and industrial. When it wobbles to a halt at the end of a bass solo of sorts, there seems to be a nod to dubstep.

Perhaps it’s the presence of these little hints that pop up now and again – whether they be towards dubstep, industrial or techno – that gives the record what would seem to be a huge potential for remixing. Bates has a knack for a sharp lick – a fragment of bassline here, a few seconds of synth there – and there are many of these that could take centre stage at any point. This has already been demonstrated with each of the album’s singles: classic-sounding electro track Side Of The Road is the latest of these and comes with remixes from Emporer Machine, Dinamo Azari of Azari & III, and John Tejada.

Bates is clearly a thoughtful editor of his own work: although there are many directions that the music could go in, a strong sense of control is maintained. His evidently broad musical enthusiasm makes for an album that’s not without it’s risky moments: after all, there is only so much that can be included in any one record, and Bates pushes it almost to breaking point. But he never tips over it. Even the ambient drone track PB3 doesn’t seem out of place, although it might benefit from being a couple of minutes shorter.

Most importantly, it’s clear that Bates has an ear for a tune, and several of the Big Black Delta tracks could almost be very fine pop songs. Money Rain Down is the highpoint: here everything that can be done with a horn section is done, without there ever being a sense of overload. The horns surge, they blare, and they skitter – and like almost every aspect of this album, they come with a glorious sense of scale. This is rich and satisfying music, just to the left of pop and produced with an obvious sensitivity towards a number of genres. The joyfully unabashed massiveness of it all is what makes Big Black Delta such a promising prospect.



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