Taking a complete 180 from the fantastical, devilish flare of their recent releases since the conclusion of Road to Kingdom, Oneus have taken on sci-fi, funk music, and the enigmatic “42.”
The album, Binary Code, centers around the idea of the dark side of technology and human interaction in the modern age. It features four new songs and a rock version of their debut track “Valkyrie.”
The title track “BLACK MIRROR” is an enigma in itself, with the name derived from a popular metaphor also utilized by the popular British show of the same name. According to the show’s producer himself, a black mirror is, metaphorically, “what’s in front of us after technology stops working, it’s the emptiness where we see our person, deformed in black, excluding the light of our rationality.” He explains it is this staring back at our own distorted image that directly relates to our fears and the pursuit of technological innovation, sometimes to a fault.
“BLACK MIRROR” and Binary Code are two sides of the same coin in a roundabout way and understanding the relationship makes the rest of the tracks fit logically within this framework. It has to do with physics, grand unification theory, and quantum theory, so hang tight.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, supercomputer Deep Thought reveals that the answer to the “Great Question” of “Life, the Universe, and Everything” is “forty-two.” While this is purely a work of fiction, scientists continue to explore the concept of the universe as informational processing like a supercomputer rather than random, spontaneous consequences of free will. Now I’m no physicist by any means, but if the universe is composed of information and data rather than purely organic consequence, the link to a binary code of the universe according to Oneus makes some sense. As humans continue to innovate technology and unlock secrets of the vast multiverse, we ultimately have ourselves to blame for some of the transgressions and self-awareness that come from these innovations, hence the relationship to the dark underbelly of the black mirror.
Oneus’ MV is full of futuristic-looking sets, Matrix-esque glitches sequences, and references to their “digital world” and being “stuck” in whatever alternate dimension the MV seems to take place in. Interestingly, time seems to be bent and subverted with the members donning futuristic clothing as well as vintage sparkly jackets I would imagine Michael Jackson wearing. There does not seem to be any central fashion era represented from what I can tell other than obvious Michael Jackson funk influence and sleek, vaguely futuristic clothes.
The members cycle between a dizzying selection of patterns, sets, and cinematography, ultimately culminating in a dark room filled with spotlights and black fedoras in hand. The choreography and music are funky and addictive, figuratively and literally. The mixing, drum patches, and prevalent funk bass licks make this a nearly textbook track reminiscent of “Billie Jean” by the king himself. The amalgamation of all these elements is admittedly dizzying and a lot to intake from a first watch, but it creates a dimension that really pulls Oneus into a whole new direction from their recent releases while still retaining their characteristic whacky, otherworldly concept design. Like “No Diggity,” this track pushes Oneus outside of their comfort zone exploring new sounds, subgenres, and concept design.
The remaining tracks explore various relationships and means of engaging with those around us. The most similar songs to the title track are “Polarity” and “Happy Birthday.” “Polarity” holds dual meanings. Like the polarity between atoms and ions in the universe, Oneus lovingly highlights the polarity between themselves and the listener. Sexy and understated, an evocative guitar ostinato lures the listener in and is partnered with equally alluring choreography. This track sounds a lot more similar to what I would expect of Oneus. It is subtle and hypnotic, like “What You Doing?” or “Leftover” from their previous album Devil.
The most confusing and out of place track on the album is “Happy Birthday.” At first glance it seems largely sensual, tempting, and borderline naughty. Lyrics express their undying love and claiming that if they were born again, they would still love the listener. More direct lyrics express that they are “so thirsty” and “go crazy.” The song further drives home the inseparable relationship between them and us like the inevitability of 0 and 1 in binary code. While the name of the song “happy birthday” feels a bit strange, perhaps they are celebrating one’s literal “birth” day and existence in the universe rather than the annual date of celebration normally attributed to the term.
Rounding out the album is the rock version of “Valkyrie”, first performed at their Beyond Live concert and the ballad “Connect with US.” “Connect with US” is a continuation of the outro from the previous album and sounds sentimental and contemplative. Similar to “Polarity,” the mix is driven by a repetitive guitar riff that weaves in and out of the forefront of the mix with the members’ vocals and lyrical rapping. The message is bittersweet. Despite being “trapped behind a screen,” like in “Polarity” and “Happy Birthday,” the members express that even when “the meaning of space and time has long since faded… in the end, only 0 and 1 remain” much like the relationship between Oneus and To Moon.
One of the most evocative elements of this whole album concept is how the members express the benefits and drawbacks of their interactions with fans within the confines of technology. Through innovations in streaming, fans have been able to experience a number of concerts, fan signs, and other various events that they would otherwise be unable to attend. With that being said, it can often feel like we (and they) are trapped in the confines of the technology, lightyears away from in-person and face-to-face interactions beyond the screen. The metaphor feels fitting for the current music landscape as countries grapple with vaccines, accessibility, and the vestiges of COVID in the digital age. With flare and a good dose of caution, it seems Oneus have captured just that. Here’s to hoping live music comes back sooner rather than later and in-person music-making can resume in some capacity, taking into account lessons learned through the pandemic.