BT – Ima

Another review of the works of BT is long overdue on this blog. We looked at Emotional Technology a couple of years ago, and concluded it was pretty good, but today’s review is of a much earlier album – BT‘s first, in fact. Ima was released an incredible 20 years ago this week.

With only five tracks (one of which is three quarters of an hour long) it’s an oddly formatted album – so much so, in fact, that I was curious to see how it could ever have been fitted onto an LP or cassette. What I discovered was that they had gone for a completely different – possibly actually better – track listing. Even the reissued CD version appears to have shifted things around a little, making you wonder whether BT was ever entirely happy with this release.

There’s some confusion around the name online, and straight off the bat I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was an acronym or a word. It turns out that Ima is the pronunciation of the Japanese character 今, which means “now”. A number of online sources actually call the album 今 Ima, but that seems a little silly to me…

It opens with the gentle burbling of Nocturnal Transmission, a pleasant trance piece which bobbles along pleasantly enough for a little over nine minutes, without ever really saying much. It was actually BT‘s second single, after an initial attempt with Embracing the Future, although its chart impact was negligible.

Quark is every bit as pleasant, and doesn’t entirely go anywhere either. There’s a nice acid attack a couple of minutes in, and a few other creative side-steps, but otherwise it’s really just another long trance piece (it’s pretty much the shortest track on here).

Shortest of all is Tripping the Light Fantastic, and that’s a shame in a way, as it’s possibly the most interesting track so far – again with an acid bass, it brings in some vaguely inventive vocal samples and repeated arpeggios to keep you entertained for its ultra-short duration of around six and a half minutes, perhaps in an effort to help prepare you for what comes next.

Sasha’s Voyage of Ima is heavy going at the best of times – it’s really the sort of thing best saved for an overlooked bonus disc. There’s really nothing at all wrong with Sasha‘s megamix of BT hits, but it does seem at times as though it’s going to go on forever, as you work through Embracing the SunshineQuark again, two mixes of Loving You More, and then reprises of Nocturnal Transmission and Tripping the Light Fantastic. You can’t fault BT for doing something inventive and different, but surely you can fault him for hiding some excellent songs (particularly Embracing the Sunshine and Loving You More) somewhere in the middle of a 45-minute single-track opus with somebody else’s name on it? Maybe not.

Eventually, like a good thing, the opus comes to an end, leaving us with just one more track, Divinity, which, listening to it in 2015, is a nice but fittingly unexciting end to the album.

And that, perhaps, is the point – in 1995, Ima was groundbreaking and unique. In 2015, it’s still unusual, and there are still moments to find here, but for the most part it’s fairly dull and unexciting. The two decades which have followed have been kinder to BT than they have to his debut.

You can still find Ima all over the place, both in its original and reissued form – the digital release appears to favour the latter version, as may you.

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