BT — Everything You’re Searching For Is On The Other Side of Fear (Review)
I don’t even know how to talk about this one at this point.
At first glance BT’s most recent album release will seem like a scattered collection of his “This Binary Universe”-esque works. It spans sixteen tracks making up an 80 minute runtime that moves fast and doesn’t let more than half the album tracks pass the five minute threshold (and only four go past six minutes). I didn’t know what to make of the album when I was listening to it for the first time the Saturday after Christmas. I still don’t now while I’m writing this but I’m going to try to.
A week or two after my first several listens I thought I could compare the album to 2006’s “This Binary Universe” in the sense that BT has maybe hit a new sort of crossroads in his music career. Back then the release of that album showcased a multitude of things for fans who had been following the creator closely by that point: They all knew he had done movie scores, they all had loved his contribution to and continued participation in the club music scene. “Emotional Technology” being BT’s most recent album before This Binary Universe meant people had been exposed to the fact that BT wasn’t beyond exploring the melding of other genres and club music, even if some didn’t necessarily like it (I found it pretty okay in my book). But This Binary Universe really opened the door for people to understanding another facet of BT’s interests all in one go. It put the blender on BT’s personal side in a way we hadn’t seen before and threw in mathematics, scientific discovery, technology, and orchestral music appreciation all into the mix. It also opened the doors to new listeners who didn’t even enjoy club music at all. After that, BT found interest in the club music scene again and the rest is history with “These Hopeful Machines”. Those two albums are an unforgettable one-two punch of invention and artistic refinement that let BT open his doors more than ever before on trying out things he’s been interested in. This decade only proves he’s continued in that success since by releasing two ambient projects and three more electronica projects (now labeled “TBU” projects).
But that comparison to 2006’s TBU still doesn’t really work for a comparison today because BT’s not at some musical diverging crossroad of interests here vying to build his electronic and orchestral interests as a retreat while turning into a dad or just losing interest in what there is to do in the club music scene at the moment. Instead, BT’s very interested in how AI is going to replace artists in our day and age, living a happy life with his wife and daughter, and fulfilling his musical dreams. Not to mention club music right now isn’t at some dis-interesting impasse. It’s maintaining a status quo and further becoming more relevant as a pop cultural influence in the US.
So, again, how do we look at this album?
On the surface it looks fractured and scattered: Sixteen tracks, none standing out as more largely designed than the other, it’s 80 minutes long in total. Most of this album is experienced in shorter track run times than most BT fans are likely used to, which is to say the album tracks are pretty digestible in terms of length. But what about genre? What multi-layered super dense stuff are we trekking here all at once? Turns out, we’re not. BT has done the unthinkable by taking his very complex makeup of musical ideas and actually distilled them down to their essence here. In each track BT lets one musical genre or element take dominance over the rest, the makeup of the album being made up of four different pieces: Acoustics, orchestras, electronics, and choirs. It’s just a question of what type of track we’re listening to. This is so very not BT by typical definitions. This is why I was so very close to saying we’ve come full circle to 2006 over a decade later because BT’s showing us something truly alien to us again, I really don’t know exactly what this album is going to mean a few years from now because of it. This Binary Universe never really intersected with his club music soundscape, but it altered the way we saw the artist and gave BT the opportunity to finally mix some passions together. For someone who has only gotten to know his works post-TBU (which means I didn’t get to experience the personal shift some of his fans must’ve had when first hearing TBU back in ‘06), this is a weird thing to go through. I’m curious how it’s going to change the way I listen to BT albums in the future. In “Everything You’re Searching for is on the Other Side of Fear” a BT fan is going to feel the absence of BT’s usual musical space that is perfectly packed to the brim of what we are aurally capable of taking in without overloading our sensors. It will really feel minimalist for that crowd. But it also shapes out a very emotionally charged experience as a result.
The album starts on a dazed and confusing tone with “L’espirit De L’escalier”, a track darting between organically buzzing electronic stuns and piano notes stumbling and faltering before switching through several different electronic plates of ticks, samples, strings, and stings. It feels like several memories rushing through one’s mind searching for some sort of an answer. A strange and alien place for a BT album to start, but maybe fitting considering the meaning behind the track’s phrase. This is the album at its overview though, a hodgepodge of what it contains aside from the two choral pieces: Orchestras, samples, electronics, acoustics, all briefly vying for control of your attention before letting each other take turns. Things steady out and decide to do small fusions on the next track “Hygge”, a track reflecting its tranquil meaning by musically depicting calming and contentment through tight piano bits. There’s quite a bit of piano on this album, altered only to serve the needs of the electronic elements in this album, and it’s the true mark that this album is removing so many layers of complexity we’re normally experiencing in BT albums. “Hygge” begins playing its tranquil bits but then stops and loops a tiny tone giving way to an ambient room with subtle pad work and strings filling up spaces between later piano progressions that are now given the same echo chamber as the other sounds. What begins on a dock up close and in your face moves into an open mental space before sneaking without any sign of transition into the truly calming “Eating up Sunday”, the first of many favorite piano pieces on this album. Piano, what pure delights this instrument brings BT listeners for the first time. BT began his classical music training learning the piano and transporting ourselves here, so many years into his career, into tracks that are really just him and a piano, the foundation of so many of his melodic building blocks like “Skylarking”, creates for a very personal touch. And just as we wrap up that personal touch of a moment, the choir begins.
BT’s own affinity for choirs speaks for itself in the music as well as his Instagram post linked above. But it’s so uniquely “new” for BT fans, despite his influences and interests in choirs of these types showing up all the way back in his debut album. There’s only two choir tracks on this album, but both stand out so much. “Snow Suspension” starts on just the vocals for most of it before letting the strings play their part of the mix. This is maybe the first time we’re getting really melancholy sounds from BT. His music has always felt optimistic, even in the face of darkness or seeming tragic themes. Snow Suspension, while carrying beauty with it, strikes a sort of sorrow that aches. Later track “Carpe Noctem” feels an octive or two lifted from Snow Suspension with uncertainty and strangeness thrown into the mix, the string section on it gently moving back and forth, never really given a moment to rest. But back to that melancholy sound on Snow Suspension, it’s carried straight into “The Boolean Query”, an apparently super wrapped piano sample carried into several different zones for eight minutes. It’s perhaps the most traditional TBU-thing on the album and still manages to carry more tone and weight that is a bit new for BT. Mystery, confusion, haziness. I’ve never found myself describing a BT album with so many moods and emotions in it. Normally the emotion is a peaceful or uplifting one and it’s all woven deep into the matrix of complex sonic intricacies that BT won’t let you escape for the duration of his albums. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s so very different and hard to grapple with when BT’s letting emotions do the driving for the most part. The Boolean Query and follow-up “Orthogonal” are going to feel like the biggest reprises from that emotional steering on the album.
Where Boolean Query does a lot of odd timing bassline thumps to the tune of clicks and whirrs spinning up, stopping, and flickering on and off while a gentle piano melody plays every now and then, Orthogonal sticks a 4/4 in the midst of a one-two string sampling with some nice light acoustic (I think?) strumming. The trick on Orthogonal is the bassline, a strum that hits some speakers so hard you’d think a cello was in your headphones. It’s so pleasantly strummy and the vibrations on it never really stop long enough before another part of the progression is plucked. With a mix of lighter drums in the mix, Orthogonal is the one you’re tempted to play at a DJ set despite belonging on the BT album not built for this kind of stuff. Last time that experience was on Ohm, this time it’s here. But we can’t forget BT’s love for the orchestral and cinematic. And so in walks “Paraglide”, “Pale Antlers”, “Thermocline”, and “Eidos”. Paraglide is sixty seconds of lift and triumph on a full orchestral blast, while Pale Antlers mixes the lighter synth section with piano and keyboard progressions. I swear someone could mistake Pale Antlers for a touching anime romantic comedy ballad. It’s really pretty and fitting for that light airy tone. Meanwhile Thermocline is maybe the weakest listen on the album, though technically interesting. It’s a string piece sent out on a tape, which isn’t a first (or last) for BT. And while the tape element definitely adds to the layer of somber the strings are working so hard to sell, it does sort of muddle the experience. In ways the music takes on greater depth near the end when choirs briefly join in and the tape elements are slightly downplayed. Then there’s Eidos. The lighter wind section early on in this piece with harp and piano play a tune I swear I’ve heard in another life, a progression I can’t ever forget that I feel like I’ve always known. Giant swelling strings take the rest of the piece away somewhere else entirely though, giving the piece another cinematic tune playing short moments at a time. It even morphs into a foreboding start on a journey in the last third. Eidos, in a way, represents the album’s unending desire to change things up every little while.
And so the album changes things up again. “Hpt [K]” is an organically growing synthetic environment akin to walking over the digital hilltop and seeing the city down below. The last chunk of the album, aside from Carpe Notcem, involves three different piano pieces (“Anchorage”, “Piano in D”, and “The Day that Half Started”) set against synth light backgrounds that pull me back to Sinerider’s “Twilight” EP or Jon Hopkins’s more atmospheric piano pieces like “Small Memory”, “Abandon Window”, or “Recovery”. And I know I’ve said the phrase “weird” a lot but it’s so weird to be comparing BT to the likes of Jon Hopkins. Not because either is better than the other but because they’re often exploring such very different things. And yet those familiar vibes are there and wonderful here. BT’s new album ends on a swirl of keyboard, strings, and a sense of longing on “White Shore Drive”. And when it’s all done I don’t know how to feel, I still don’t. But I know I’ve felt numerous things along the way.
In the end I feel the test of time will really reveal where “Everything You’re Searching For…” sits for BT albums. In the past tracks like “Good Morning Kaia”, “Every Other Way”, and “Skylarking” were ones that broke past the barriers of complexity BT almost always has on display and as a result allowed us to tap into the core of a personal human emotion. They managed it by striking the balance between BT’s complexities and his human or nature-based inspirations. Like any conversation with an artist, the creation may not always translate to the listeners 1:1 from the actual author’s personal experience. But with tracks so mostly devoid of the numerous layers we normally get out of a BT album, it’s possible this album could generate a perspective all the more paratextual. I’m genuinely curious to see if any of these compositions manage to turn into club tracks all their own. So much here is teeming with possibility. And it really does feel possible that the key to our next big journey with BT is something opposite of our comfort zone, sitting in the midst of what we’re afraid of letting BT be and do at times. Let’s jump headfirst into that fear and see where BT takes us next.