Distorted, thought-provoking fare from the enigmatic production duo.
Chris Power 2012-04-17
Black Is Beautiful is the fourth album the enigmatic production duo Hype Williams have produced in three years, recording here as Dean Blunt - a pseudonym - and Inga Copeland - possibly her real name, but with these two, who knows? Naming themselves after a director of hip hop music videos is just one of the many pieces of bafflement and misdirection the pair traffic in: they met at an Oasis gig in 1996; they’re part of an art project masterminded by a woman called Denna Frances Glass. These things and more may or may not be true, which may or may not be the point.
“The best art has humour in it,” Blunt told The Wire last year, and it seems to be glee that lurks behind Blunt and Copeland’s opaque media-facing demeanours. This pranksterism irritates those who prefer their art to explain itself, but although the duo’s muddy, chaotic productions – blends of unquantized beats, processed vocals and last-legs synthesisers taking shape in a post-grime, post-gangsta rap hinterland – are part of the game, the emotion they house and trigger is no joke. Blunt and Copeland might not mean anything they say, but they mean at least some of what they play.
Black Is Beautiful is their most immediately accessible album, but its 15 tracks (14 of which are untitled) don’t sound much like hits. Like its predecessors, this set works best taken as a whole, when its unstable collage has time to establish what turns out to be a powerful atmosphere. It’s a rapidly changing landscape, where the thrashing live drums of (Venice Dreamway) melt into bleary soul, lo-fi G-funk and psychedelia. Tracks waver between bliss and nausea, hypnagogic J-pop, a boom-bap slow jam sung by a Billie Holiday-channelling Copeland, and the chants, acidic gurgles and swells of distorted sound that comprise the unstable topography of the nine-minute long track 10.
Track 9 begins with a lengthy vocal loop that, after a couple of minutes, is joined by a hopelessly out of sync beat. This isn’t ineptitude but deliberate scrappiness. Indie bands hit wrong notes and sing out of tune all the time, their sloppiness signifying authenticity. But this same sloppiness feels more transgressive in electronic productions that have sought to remove the inaccuracies of human agency. This orchestrated disorder is another destabilising facet of what Blunt and Copeland are attempting to do with their biographical misinformation. Their project is one that invites thought, but crucially doesn’t neglect to elicit feeling.