Release Date: Nov 4, 2014
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Electronic
Here’s a thought: what if Dean Blunt has been playing so hard to get all these years, not because he’s some jealously private individual who doesn’t want every Tom, Dick, and Sally knowing who he really is, but because he himself doesn’t know who he really is? What if the secret when it comes to Blunt is that there is no secret? What if he’s been wearing masks all this time because masks are the only thing available to him? Then maybe he’d record something like Black Metal. Departing from the “narcotized R&B” and “bargain-basement soul” of last year’s The Redeemer-Stone Island one-two punch, as well as the “comatose hip-hop” of 2012’s The Narcissist II, Black Metal has Blunt masquerading under the “dead white tropes” of reverb-washed folk, starlit Americana, and post-ish indie rock, only to change into the dead black tropes of urbanite dub, anti-social electronica, and starkly ambient grime. But if it would be all-too easy to charge him yet again with artistic tomfoolery and arch self-consciousness, there’s a newfound purpose to his dilettantism, one that invests the album with more weight than anyone had any right to expect.
Dean Blunt has held quite the poker face. Several years into his career, he's still smoke and mirrors to most people. Even The Redeemer, which dealt with brutally honest heartbreak, could feel impenetrable, like it was keeping us at arm's length. Blunt's sampling style is part of that. The borders ….
This second solo album from former Hype Williams man Dean Blunt is easily the most ambitious record he’s ever made. 2013’s ‘The Redeemer’ was impressive, but full of the easily recognisable lo-fi dub, rap, krautrock and R&B sounds carried over from his work with Inga Copeland in his previous band. It felt like the subversive prankster from Hackney was running out of ideas.
Dean Blunt is a deceiver by trade. Part of the equally elusive Hype Williams, his solo work exists to surprise, mixing harsh concrete blows with gorgeous field recordings in one strange union. Following last year’s scattered patchwork ‘The Redeemer’, he’s offered the biggest shock so far by settling down into something of a groove. ‘Black Metal’ isn’t short of detours or odd contrasts, but its title is the biggest red-herring of all.
Dean Blunt still remains an enigma to most listeners these days. Having hung around in the shadows of experimental pop music both as a solo artist and formerly as one half of Hype Williams, his reclusive nature has created an air of mystery around both him and his work. It's something that directly correlates to how the man makes his music: drawing on everything from folk, to electronica, to hip-hop with some impressive sample digging, there is no set genre or form.
This, the second solo album proper from elusive Londoner Dean Blunt, is a work of strange dichotomies. It is fractured, offbeat, at times grating, yet contains some of the most achingly beautiful music recorded this year. It opens on a bizarrely conventional note, with jangly guitars and lush strings, then unravels over 53 minutes. The first half is slow, reflective, folky almost, then the bass drops and we’re in a murky, glitchy dancehall record.
Though he's said that he doesn't set out to make "difficult" music, Dean Blunt certainly hasn't made much easy over the course of his career. Both as one-half of the shadowy duo Hype Williams and under his own name, the London-based art-pop provocateur has spent the better part of the last half decade turning out dense keyboard drones, giving intentionally obtuse and combative interviews, and putting on bizarre performance art live shows. But with his latest full-length, it seems he's finally decided to open up, to highlight a love for pop music that's always been somewhere underneath the found sound samples and sub-bass firebombs.
Nearly everything written about Dean Blunt tends to focus on his strict refusal to apply genre tags to the music he makes and the all-around confounding nature of his chameleonic approach to the creative process. More times than not, the term “maverick” can be found somewhere in close proximity to any mention of his name. While this tends to make it difficult to quickly slap an easily identifiable label on Blunt’s recorded output, it seems to be the whole point of his often-baffling aesthetic choices, causing listeners to rethink the whole purpose of generic classification.
Dean Blunt’s mission to confound continues, and confounding Black Metal most certainly is. For its first half, this is his indie-pop record: the presiding sound, with filigree electric guitar patterns laid over acoustics, to subdued effect, is Felt. Yet these are rarely songs: the tracks are more usually repeated musical phrases, becoming songs only because they happen to occupy a song-like length of time.
Knowing Dean Blunt's past work with and without Inga Copeland, it would be instinctive to approach Black Metal without expecting the title to offer a clue about the contents. Sure enough, the maverick's first release for Rough Trade sounds nothing like Venom's landmark album of the same title or anything that has drawn from it. Presented in predictably none-more-black packaging, there's merely a track list and sample credits.
Formerly one half of Hype Williams – the notorious, now-defunct experimental pop duo with a well-publicised penchant for the far-fetched, unlikely and hard to believe – Dean Blunt is an artist as elusive as he is divisive. The pair of albums he released in 2013, Stone Island and The Redeemer, speak volumes: the former was self-released on a Russian website; the latter consisted of gloomy samples and downbeat R&B. Some thought The Redeemer one of the best albums of the year, others suspected the whole thing was a piss-take.
It’s rare to find mention of Dean Blunt without some reference to him being a provocateur. At a show at the ICA earlier this year the ex-Hype Williams man’s performance consisted of a group of men in vodka branded t-shirts milling around while a DVD of Australian comedian Kevin Hart played. The Redeemer, FACT’s album of 2013, was an exercise in postmodernism, very explicitly pitting high culture against ‘low’.
As Hype Williams, Dean Blunt and collaborator Inga Copeland seemed to take delight in puzzling listeners and interviewers alike with their hazy textures, foggy live performances and shared stories–thought to be mostly lies–of their meeting at Oasis' infamous Knebworth gig and Copeland's strategy of releasing music through USB sticks hidden in apples on the Brixton Market. Indeed, watching Blunt at Corsica Studios a couple of months ago was a testing experience, as he stalked the pitch-black stage accompanied by a bodyguard, before punishing the audience with ten minutes of remorseless strobing and meandering sub bass. The problem with all of this though, and perhaps an error being committed in this very piece, is that Blunt's penchant for evasive, prankster behaviour has always somewhat overshadowed, probably through no direct intention of his own, just how singular an artist he is.
Dean Blunt’s not showing his hand yet. Despite working with singer/producer Inga Copeland as one-half of Hype Williams and releasing last year’s excellent, trajectory-shifting solo LP, The Redeemer, the all-but-faceless musician is still a shadowy guy. His music is sparse, but textured, as if something is hiding in the corners of even the most simple ballads.