“Is it any good?” a friend asked, after I’d declared Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s ‘Black Is Beautiful’ my album of 2012.
What a question. Surely it’s the motivation for these annual countdowns, as we collectively ask: is it any good? Can you quantify its goodness relative to the rest of the year’s musical product? Is it an album you can’t stop playing? Was it the soundtrack to your summer?
“It’s…” I struggled for the word. “It’s not good, exactly. I mean, I don’t really want to listen to it that often.” A sceptical face looks back at me. Try again. “It’s just… it, isn’t it? It’s not just the album of 2012 – it is 2012.”
When I first heard Hype Williams (the duo’s previous and apparently interchangeable name) near the end of 2010, something about their woozy conveyor belt of crusty-edged samples, squeezed, stretched loops and cassette-like fidelity transported me back to being a car-sick child, listening to my dad’s worn-out tapes on the way to the airport at dawn. Tracks like Blue Dream and The Throning triggered a queasiness that I’ve never quite shaken off – all that lethargic, narcotic, pitch-shifting infinite loopiness burrowed into my brain and made me listen over and over, unsure of whether I actually liked what I was hearing, but convinced it was worth enduring.
Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – 2
‘Black is Beautiful’ marks a milestone for the band. Released in April under their own (probably still pseudonymous) names on Hyperdub, it’s their most accessible yet – hypnotic, queasy grooves abound, and the whacked-out voices intoning the names of every single Pokemon have been excised. There’s even an actual pop song in the form of a sweet and infectious cover of Donnie & Joe Emerson’s Baby, a recently rediscovered psych-soul gem which also appeared on Ariel Pink’s ‘Mature Themes’ this year. Yet it remains essentially confrontational, from its function-over-form song names, numbered from 2 to 15 after the opening drum pile-up of Venice Dreamway, to the awkward gaps between tracks, which either stop abruptly or fade into long, disconcerting silences.
To use a facetious but apt comparison, ‘Black is Beautiful’ has a lot in common with the salient art form of our time, the animated GIF. Both are proudly low-tech, sometimes ugly, often humorous and, crucially, capable of carrying multiple meanings. Just as bloggers repost GIFs with new captions to repurpose a joke, Blunt and Copeland ensure their abstract atmospheres and collaged samples remain open and undefined. Disguised as innocuous new age noodling (8 and 4) or rhythmic Casio grooves (tracks 3, 7 and 14, which devolve with each repetition like HAL having his modules ripped out), they’re nonetheless detached from any recognisable genre label.
Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – 8
“Nothing means anything anymore, so people should stop trying to make sense of things,” Blunt told the Guardian in an interview this year. Sceptics might call that evidence of his insincerity; a veil of postmodernist bluster to hide behind. But even if he is hiding, he’s got a point – we’re in the post-everything era. We’re post-ideology, post-meaning – and music reflecting that condition would have to be as confusing, messy and opaque as that suggests.
As much as Blunt and Copeland clearly hate any effort to deconstruct them or their work, they can rest easy. No amount of quasi-academic scrutiny can reveal the “answers” to Hype Williams. The music is its own armour. And I wouldn’t dare be so fatuous as to describe it as “good” – it just is. ‘Black is Beautiful’ sounds like now.
Graphic design courtesy of Luke Corpe.