A name change for the duo previously known as Hype Williams. From now on, we’ll have to refer to them using the names Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland. Whether these names reflect their true identity or whether they are another mask is hard to say, keeping in mind that, as usual, their new album has appeared with a minimal amount of information and the little that there is confuses more than it clarifies. How should we take the title, and a cover that “samples” the cover of the well-known African-American cultural magazine? What’s more, the majority of the songs here don’t even have titles, and the press release hardly mentions that the album was created during a difficult period for the duo; for example during Dean Blunt’s trial for his alleged participation in a series of attacks on London taxidermists (?!). But this way of playing does have the advantage of allowing listeners to submerge themselves in an increasingly distinctive sound universe without distractions, once they are past the layer of red herrings that these extra-musical references suppose.
It’s odd that, as much as they insist in their interviews that London is one of their main sources of inspiration, attention is seldom paid to how their music works, effectively, as a map of their personal experience in the British capital. In fact, it could even be said that this is the big subject in their music, evoking an urban setting full of odd corners to take shelter, smoke, dance, get drunk, and interact in - with a counterpoint somewhere between melancholy and pessimism. Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland are two people who try to articulate a discourse based on sounds that characterise their life in the metropolis, from atmospheric ambient to nocturnal rhythmic trepidation. The view that they offer of London is emotionally and sonically complex, beyond the uniform appearance given to it by their lo-fi production and the blurring of the senses that filters into everything that they do. “Black Is Beautiful”, like their previous albums, works as a sound world that one can become immersed in - founded on a geographic reality, but filtered through the marked personality of its creators. In effect (albeit perhaps accidentally), they are giving rise to a sort of 21st-century urban electronic folk, along with producers such as Burial, who start from similar points.
With every album that they release, they reaffirm their aesthetic constants further, exploring all of the possibilities of the musical vein that they struck some years ago. As happened with “One Nation” - their album released last year by the label Hippos in Tanks - the songs here vary in length. Some end abruptly without lasting even a minute, as if they had lost interest or, even worse, as if they were playing at winding us up, while other times the pieces may last up to nearly ten minutes. “Black Is Beautiful” is, then, a new catalogue of intimate impressionistic vignettes. It is sustained by ominous, suffocating synths, absorbing drones with fine nuances, as well as a percussion that sounds freer and airier than ever, even alternating drum-machines with “real” percussion. In any case, we also find ourselves once again with the same mixture of intuition and exploration, combined with greater ability to make it all sound focused.
So Blunt and Copeland continue to give an increasingly recognisable form to their particular interpretation of urban, nocturnal, narcotic and electronic psychedelics. Their emotional amplitude is measured in the space that there is between the warm, strangely welcoming, sensually dark atmospheres, and the more luminous moments that appear centre stage. There are, at points, catchy melodies that border on pop alongside club rhythms that sound equally vibrant and exciting - working more as a fuzzy memory of the experience of a club than as an attempt to create music that works on the dance floor. Although it is difficult to establish parallels with other musicians, something of hip hop slips into some of the rhythmic patterns, while the layered work of other cuts reminds one of the more recent Oneohtrix Point Never - at times even sounding like a 21st-century reinterpretation of Japan’s synth-pop. But to be honest, seeking parallels is a bit frustrating when it comes to them, because it confuses more than it clarifies what the listener will find.