Usually when an album begins with a track called something like "Guided Meditation," I don't expect it to be literal. But therein lies the brilliance of Jon Bap's debut LP, What Now?: it indulges in this sort of experimentation with such unapologetic audacity that the listener can't help but accept it. It's a complex album, intricate in its construction but simultaneously free-associative and raw. But perhaps most importantly, What Now? is eminently listenable, couching every arty statement in funky beats and mesmerizing vocals.
Much like the opening titles of Twin Peaks, that guided meditation serves as an airlock—a ten-minute decompression from the blandness of our immediate surroundings that prepares us for entry into a world of true artistry. It's followed by "Forward," a predominantly spoken-word track that outlines something of a manifesto: "I'm not Michaelangelo / I don't see the angel inside the marble / I only see / I only feel / I only love / The demons inside the mortal." Jon Bap is simultaneously acknowledging and rejecting the trappings of the archetypal Artist, eschewing overt academic rigor in favor of free-flowing emotion.
It's an interesting take on the drum 'n' bass genre, which isn't exactly known for its vulnerability or improvisation. But Jon Bap is quick to introduce elements of R&B, soul, and hip-hop (beginning with "Born Into This"), as well as a few other spoken-word interludes, in order to give it a more human feel. The vocals, in particular, are often pained and desperate in their delivery (especially in "Other People"), and occasionally digress into pretty heartfelt musings on art and performance ("Flow").
What Now? is definitely a challenging album, but not because it punishes the listener with unpleasant experimental sounds—in fact, it's quite the opposite. The challenge here is to experience something that is both meticulously crafted and spontaneous, intellectual and emotional, and embrace that dichotomy. Luckily, Jon Bap makes it a hell of a fun ride along the way.