Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – Black Is Beautiful review
It’s not been made clear why Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland opted to drop the Hype Williams moniker in advance of this album for Hyperdub. Given the somewhat glib, intellectual appendage-swinging approach us writers have taken to their music since they surfaced, it’s possible they saw it as just another way to have us endlessly theorising. This shift in presence to their own supposedly fake names is the only difference on Black Is Beautiful, a gradually intoxicating album that retains every other aspect of the hazed out world of malfunctioning equipment Blunt and Copeland have occupied across countless releases.
For those yet to dive into this world, it’s hard to pick out a starting point and Black Is Beautiful doesn’t play out like their most accessible on first listen. Like much of their material, there are factors to it that are typically uncompromising and difficult to fathom. The opening track “Venice Dreamway” commences with the lung-coughing antics of Blunt – bringing to mind Mosshart disagreeing with a Marlboro in the debut album from The Kills – and the rest of the album’s tracks are simply numbered. It’s almost as if Blunt and Copeland are attempting to weed out those listeners who remain unsure. Add to this the fact a few of the tracks sound like sketches of ideas at best, ranging from thirty to fifty seconds long and little more than jagged hip beats, blunted in their placing and over before they’ve begun.
It’s these tracks that will jar upon first listen and prevent you from fully enjoying the album, as the internal music critic within us all is still scoffing at track seven finishing before it even started, diverting your attention from the subsequent and quite delightful track. So it takes a few listens in your preferred music seeping environment for Black Is Beautiful to make sense – the album works especially well on one endless loop. Grant yourself a certain amount of time and everything seems to coalesce towards some semblance of coherence, the various strands of music Blunt and Copeland wander down sound best when diced up with the same short interludes which at first glance annoy. For some reason, these fractions of tracks bring to mind Tricky in that illuminating post Maxinquaye period, the same off the grid beat work that appeared on countless B Sides to the singles that accompanied the densely paranoid Pre Millennium Tension.
Much like Tricky’s best work was with his muse Martina Topley Bird behind the microphone, the most impressive tracks on Black Is Beautiful are the ones where Copeland shows off the increasing strength of her voice, adopting several different tones as the 40 minutes unfurls. It’s at its sweetest on the second track, positively lullabying over the hissing tape and drenched guitar that accompany it. Alongside this, there are barely perceptible moments which will be familiar to long-term HW devotees – as on the fifth track with raucous 80s stadium rock synths reappropriated to a rattling lo-fi Oriental rhythm that seems to seep into Copeland’s bizarre vocal delivery.
Occupying nearly a quarter of the album’s run time, the tenth track is undoubtedly framed as the album centre piece, gathering together the various smudged out strands explored prior into one nine-minute exercise in lolloping, steamy and mind-bending dub. At several points the track feels like it’s going to burst the speakers, a semblance of balance seemingly held together by Copeland’s deep set mutterings and the stuttering rhythms, until the dying moments where the track finally stretches apart as it falls towards the depths. This is sandwiched in the midst of the album’s greatest moments, with the following track – naturally all too short – but wrapped in the sort of reverb that sounds like it’s emanating from the depths of a well, with Copeland’s woozily sweet delivery sounding oh so ripe over the tinniest of drum sounds. As if to remind your senses this isn’t all about Copeland’s voice, the twelfth track is a monstrously dizzying annihilation of samples sounding like Araabmusik diagnosed with Tourettes.
Blunt’s main vocal contribution precedes all this on the ninth track, and it will surprise on first listen, with the loose jawed players rap arriving some two minutes in after a looped up and slowed down “Never look back” vocal has you wondering where this is going. That the track should turn inside out after an amusing vocal sample is wholly indicative of the Blunt and Copeland style and few other acts could make it work.
1. 1 (Venice Dreamway)