Album of the Week: Dean Blunt – ‘Black Metal’

04.11.14

The thing about listening to Dean Blunt is that I rarely pay attention to the words. Maybe it’s because I’ve been programmed over the course of however many albums and years with his old group Hype Williams, where obscurity with the odd provocation via an album title, a song name, or a cloudy reference to a marginalised cultural trope, is what one comes to expect with his music. A lot of the time that means missing the point, where Blunt's third 'official' solo album, 'Black Metal' – featuring 13 charming songs that only occasionally dip into the misty and malfunctioning chaos of his Hype Williams heyday – seems to fade out with the lonely city-glow of album-closer Grade's film noir saxophone outro. 

This is quite a piece of work: if not quite as challenging as last year's 'The Redeemer', then sonically and thematically, it’s still incredibly confronting, if you're one of the people paying attention. Because the distinction is from an ocean of listeners Blunt has had no trouble in dividing, whether it’s by barely showing up to his own performances, if at all, or antagonising his 'thinking' public with press ‘texts’ like the one that comes with 'Black Metal'. It's prose peppered with the so-called urban slang of a marginal class, referencing "Molly, Mandy Ciroc, Patron, Punk, Mersh, Grade, Thai and thirty racks on a black card", before giving away his subject position as racialised and commodified with "Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone". I could go on and focus solely on the music and how it sounds, but that’s a kind of sidestep that I think an honest writer couldn’t make.

The themes and the sounds of Blunt's music are inextricably linked, whether it’s an apparent penchant for smoking pot that feeds into his Dean "Blunt" persona, or the anxious fit of urgent computerised motion of a song named after low-grade marijuana in Mersh. The album title and some songs point to the kind of structural inequalities that govern our social experience, down to the kind of music we listen to.

There’s the irony of 'Black Metal' as a title, with its two-fold connotations of race (as in both colour, and the largely white, potentially white power Scandinavian-born extreme musical subgenre of black metal), and song titles like 50 Cent and Punk. Those two tracks play across musical styles that are somehow opposed but still linked, whether it's the trundling guitar-folk of the 50 Cent, named after the rapper and peppered with hip hop vernacular (She got a new nigga / Now he can’t be found), or the latter’s soothing dub rhythm named after punk, a white-dominated subculture that evolved to be hugely influenced by reggae. Then there’s the delicate guitar echo of Molly and Aquafina, in harmony with frequent collaborator Joanne Robertson’s honeyed vocals and quoting lyrics from rapper French Montana’s Ain’t Worried About Nothin.

There’s a lot that’s problematic about Blunt's work, particularly when it comes accompanied by poetry that reads, "why give a bitch yr heart when she would rather have a purse" (and so on). But for now let’s leave that with the argument that Blunt is performing the two-dimensional role of hip hop misogyny offered up as the black experience by popular culture, rather than the carelessly androcentric racial politics it could easily sound like. Because ultimately, there’s something about the simplicity of Blunt's work, where awkwardly mumbled words loaded with subtle-but-consequential innuendo is effortlessly woven through an album that is as coherent and listenable as it is varied in its sonic elements. As a highly provoking record presented in a Trojan Horse of beautifully crafted almost-pop melodies, 'Black Metal' asks questions and offers no answers. Sometimes that’s the best you can do.

8/10

Rough Trade released 'Black Metal' on the November 3rd 2014 (buy).