Album Review: Big Data, ‘2.0’
Don't be surprised if you fail to catch the apprehension in guest vocalist White Sea's -- a.k.a. Morgan Kibby of M83 -- voice the first time you hear "The Business of Emotion," the opening track on Big Data's full-length debut, 2.0. When Kibby sings, "Feel good / Make ya feeel good," it's easy to get seduced into waving your hands in the air like, well ... like you feel good!
That's because programmer-songwriter and core member Alan Wilkis has done his absolute best to wrap his concerns into a highly enjoyable musical package. As Wilkis explained last year around the release of the outrageously clever video for the single "Dangerous," Big Data act as a vehicle for his unease over the increasing intrusion of technology on the human experience.
When 2.0 was released earlier this week, Wikis further clarified that every single song on the album addresses a specific technology -- as well as his own personal reservations about it. But that hasn't stopped him from setting those concerns to catchy, even deceptively celebratory-sounding music that points you straight to the dance floor. If it's true that, as Wilkis decries repeatedly on this album, we're at a critical juncture in history where technology threatens to completely engulf us, then the least we can do while recognizing the scary truth is dance our asses off. Wilkis has often described his music as "paranoid," but paranoia never sounded so comfortable or laden with hooks.
Sure, 2.0 is crammed with chilly, glitched-out textures that suggest an uneasy friction between our lived experience and our relentless obsession with documenting that experience. Wilkis intentionally draws on an abrasive palette of sounds -- including crunching, distorted beats -- to convey the sense that wonders of digitization have tricked us somehow, that even as we increase the resolution, our senses have become dull. And his forte is delivering this message via an album so thoroughly crammed with hooks that it nearly bursts open with memorable choruses. Of course, Wilkis' roster of special guest vocalists doesn't hurt. Aside from Kibby, Kimbra, Twin Shadow, Joywave's Daniel Armbruster and even Rivers Cuomo of Weezer bring their individual talents for songcraft to the table.
On the irresistibly catchy "Dangerous," Armbruster laments about the data mongers who are "listening"; monitoring our every traceable move, compiling data on our preferences, our private exchanges, our secret lives increasingly lived in the blue glow of a screen. Apparently, Wilkis' answer to his feeling of being eavesdropped-on is to really give 'em something to listen to.
With 2.0, he effectively says "listen to this" with an offering that, underneath all its electronic clothing, reveals the cry of a soul that refuses to be imprisoned.