First off I would like to go on the record in saying that despite Big Data’s “Dangerous (ft/Joywave)” being one of the bigger ‘alternative’ rock hits in 2014, I didn’t care much for it. To me it sounded like a generic, ice cold, soulless version of “Only” by Nine Inch Nails. When a song fails at being one of the most forgettable Trent Reznor songs, it’s never a good sign. After months and months of song hints and tidbits of information, Big Data a.k.a. Alan Wilkis has finally released his full length debut record 2.0. Does it live up to the word-of-mouth marketing? Let’s find out!
Big Data opens up 2.0 with “The Business Of Emotion” which starts out pedestrian and cliché with its FruityLoops royalty-free sample, treated to a heavily distorted bass synth then it suddenly explodes into something far closer to dance music than alternative has ever been. The bombastic vocals by the album’s first guest star White Sea, gives off substantial 80s vibe but in a way that doesn’t sound obnoxious as some as other current dance-rock acts. “Dangerous” follows and here it is a year later and I’m still not impressed. Moving on.
The next track “Clean (featuring Jamie Lidell)” combines smooth R&B vocals with the slick synthetic production of the previous tracks only it works a tad better. With this track it’s obvious that the tracks on 2.0 were crafted one at a time with its guest vocalist in mind. that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of artists from Santana to Death In Vegas, have created albums featuring all sorts of guest vocalist. Even with the credibility of those acts, there is a certain risk in recording projects like that. The big one is the guest outshining the helmer. That just might be the case with Big Data and 2.0 sadly. The distorted synths and rich bass drums, pulsing throughout each song, doesn’t hold enough merit to stand on its own. The vocalist is the star in just about every single song.
Listening to each song as if it weren’t part of a collective album actually makes them a lot more enjoyable. To prove this theory, I threw 2.0 on my iPod in a playlist of multiple genres then put it on shuffle and when the Big Data songs rolled around, I found myself giving them more of a fair shake. Three or four tracks into the group of songs, Wilkis kind of find’s his niche. Although there are a few boring tunes in the line up like “The Glow (fr. Kimbra)” and “Big Dater” but when the songs work, they are a lot of fun. “Snowed In” features Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo sounding like a hybrid mix of Justin Timberlake and Devo and as weird as it sounds, it’s one of my favorites on the entire record next to “Clean”.
Weaving in and out the songs on 2.0, there seems to be a lyrical theme of modern technology, the paranoia it secretly feeds and it’s affects on the world. While it may not be as articulate as say last year’s self-titled St. Vincent album, which dealt with the same themes, but it’s nice to hear someone else’s interpretation of the subject through the bells and whistles of an edgy pop record. I’m not entirely sure if Big Data are pretentious or self-aware in his delivery, but there is an agenda deep down below the beeps and bleeps of keyboards and loops. One that almost nails what exactly modern alternative rock has become.
Nearly thirty years ago, ‘Alternative Rock’ became a thing when bands and underground artists didn’t want to conform to what was being played on mainstream pop stations. Essentially it was exciting music by bored artists for bored listeners. Through that boredom came a certain expression that could really strike a nerve with the listeners who were feeling the same way. These days the average listener ISN’T bored, they are too busy being held captive by social media, cell-phones, tablets, and the pursuit of gratification to even long for a music that expresses his angst. Further down that rabbit hole reveals that angst isn’t even a thing anymore. With so many ready outlets of expression, teenagers don’t feel held back enough to go that extra mile to reach out to others. Back in the day if you had the blues, they pulled out a guitar and made a song about it, Now if they are upset, they’ll just tweet about it and it makes them feel better. With that said, I think I finally ‘get’ why modern mainstream alternative sounds like synthetic dance music. Maybe that’s what Big Data is trying to express with 2.0? If that’s the case, it hits it out of the park!
In the end, 2.0 is not a bad album. It’s not the most exciting thing I’ve heard this year or the past couple of years but it’s a good batch of synthetic dance rock tunes to keep me busy for a week or two. I don’t think it’s as important or intelligent as Big Data wants you to believe by a long shot, but it’s fun for now. I hope that if Big Data makes another album, Wilkis focuses more on himself and not on the guest vocalist or it could result in Big Data becoming yet another digital ‘experiment’ like RAC, and less of a full functioning band.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.