Written by: George Pierce
For most of his career, Brian Transeau’s music has existed just beyond the boundary of mainstream recognition, yet has always been on the forefront of the progression of the genre as a whole. The mid 90’s saw him release career-defining progressive house albums Ima and ESCM, the early 2000’s came with rave mainstays Movement In Still Life and Emotional Technology, and in 2006 he gave the world the masterwork known as This Binary Universe. Since then, BT’s legacy has always been the knowledge that no matter what branch of electronic music he decides to tackle next, the result could very well prove to be revolutionary, even if it doesn’t seem so at the time.
Perhaps that’s the problem with BT’s latest album, A Song Across Wires. It’s BT’s most blatant attempt to swan-dive into the mainstream since 2003, which in itself isn’t such a bad thing…it’s just that it’s a tad behind the times. The album is the first by BT to heavily feature dubstep, which is something that BT had only dabbled in before in single sections of songs such as “13 Angels On My Broken Windowsill.” Had this record been released just three years ago, it no doubt would have been received as a progressive take on that most wearying of electronic dance music genres. Now, however, ASAW just seems like takes on different styles that are already beyond their denouement in terms of popular relevance and are (hopefully) reaching their conclusion; a revolutionary album released long after the revolution has ended, the life of the party that showed up well after everyone has passed out from exhaustion.
Of course, that may not be entirely Transeau’s fault. The album is absolutely overrun with guests and features: 17 of them over 12 songs. BT’s previous EDM album These Hopeful Machines had only seven, and is a decidedly more focused product despite being 15 minutes longer. Guest stars have been both a blessing and a curse for BT in the past, and A Song Across Wires is no different. Some certainly work better than others; “Must Be The Love” combines the talents of BT, Arty and Nadia Ali to create a deep and beautifully compelling song that, oddly enough, sacrifices dance-ability for substance, forcing you to actually pay attention to where it is going instead of simply waiting for the bass to come back in. Tritonal and Emma Hewitt come in on “Calling Your Name” to do some serious genre mashing—the dubstep that drops a little after three minutes in manages to be one of the more interesting moments on the album—and “Tomahawk” is one of the catchiest tracks on the record, seamlessly melding dubstep and house music to create a perfect first single.
Still, more often than not, the guest stars don’t mesh all that well with BT’s style. “Letting Go” is a perfect example of this; Fractal and Jes Brieden join forces to create the most egregious mix of trance and dubstep on the album, upon which is overlayed what could be the worst stutter-edited vocals ever heard in a BT song (then again, the song does also feature what may be my new favorite dubstep drop ever at about 4:10). Fractal slightly redeems himself a couple of songs later in “City Life,” but even that could benefit with a bit less wub. “Love Divine” probably would’ve been vastly improved if it had been only BT and Christian Burns—the duo proved themselves a winning pair on past songs like “Suddenly” and “The Emergency,” whereas here, they and Stefan Dabruck produce a track that goes absolutely nowhere. Most of the rest of the album feels derivative in some way, acting less like a cohesive group of songs and more as BT’s take on other people’s music. In fact, only two tracks on the entire album, “Skylarking” and “Vervoeren,” are pure BT, and they are definite highlights. “Skylarking” in particular opens the album on a high note which gives us the type of subtle, slow-building ten minute EDM song that has been Transeau’s bread-and-butter for most of his career. Long periods of ambient scratches and glitches, another BT signature, make an appearance on “Vervoeren,” as well as “Tonight.” Elements such as these that have defined BT’s sound are in short supply on this album, seemingly pushed aside for more mainstream appeal. Add in the fact that most of the songs have almost the exact same tempo and back beat, and you have what is probably BT’s least interesting album in a decade.
It seems that with A Song Across Wires, BT tried to catch a party boat commandeered by Sonny Moore and Joel Zimmerman that had already left the dock, and was desperately hoping that it would come back around to pick him up, without realizing that the ship was already sinking. The poor album is actually quite amazing; the songs presented push the boundaries of EDM as BT always does, and on certain songs, the genres that are molded together do so in ways that didn’t seem possible. If you love BT or any of the many types of music represented here, you’ll probably find something to like about the album. But if you’ve come to find out what all the hype over Brian Transeau is about, please look elsewhere, because while the praise is certainly deserved, the things that make BT’s music truly superlative just aren’t here.