I'm not sure if the group formerly known as Hype Williams are going by their (supposedly) given names now because of a copyright issue, or because their potentially imaginary third member Denna Glass is gone. Either way, things don't sound all that different on Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland's first full album for Hyperdub. Which is to say, it's another long-form record of condensation-soaked tapes, warbly VHS reels and badly compressed YouTube rips. Other contemporary and slightly historiographical acts like Demdike Stare have blurred the lines between sampled and original material, but no one does this more literally than Blunt and Copeland. Their own work (or what you'd guess are their own bits) sound just as damaged and aged as the sampling material they work with, a sort of pointillist outlook on music. Never has that line been more blurred than on Black Is Beautiful, a surprisingly coherent record full of vignettes that feel alternately archival, ethnographic and as usual, flickering and ephemeral—glimpses of musicality that flutter away just when you get comfortable.
In some ways, Black Is Beautiful is the duo's most confrontational piece of music yet. It floats by on the same cloud of enveloping tape hiss and warped drones, but it's interrupted by an especially sharp sense of rhythm previously unseen in the group's blunt-edged ink smear. The album begins with "Venice Dreamway" (the only track with a title), essentially a two-minute free jazz piece of frantic drumming and winding synth drone. Track 12 is basically the duo's take on footwork. The album's lengthy centerpieces feature a menacing, distorted vocal loop (track 9) and a chunky, uneven krautrock groove scraped by synth wails, walls of feedback and Copeland's own scraggly birdsong (track 10), but their percussive locus keeps them from dragging the album down into a quagmire of restless boredom or tuneless foot-shuffling.
Outside of those beats, Copeland's vocals are the unexpected star on Black Is Beautiful. The first Hype Williams Hyperdub release "Rise Up" showed that Copeland had the potential to carry the group as a sort of dissociative-pop act, with tonal qualities that seemed to loiter at the peripheries rather than properly congeal. On Black there are moments when she finally gives in to convention, where those vague spore clouds of melody take actual shapes. The album's second track—an uncredited cover of an obscure late '70s pop-soul song—pours out from the cracks of the raucous opener like a humid sauna. It's an outright pop song, albeit one viewed through the lens of a thrift store's record collection. Other times she plays the alien temptress, tip-toeing around a codeine-house groove mumbling a mixture of phrases that seem to weave in and out of English.
Black Is Beautiful, despite its fifteen track count, feels like the group's most succinct and accomplished record, lacking the diversionary tactics of something like One Nation's "Mitsubishi," and instead playing confidently with a variety of sounds and stretching out when the groove calls for it. In fact, it's "groove" that makes Black Is Beautiful stand out from the group's catalogue: they no longer feel like trendy R&B appropriators or provocative cultural interrogators. This is their most musical record and their least "academic," the one that requires the least thought or context to truly understand. It's still not "easy" music, and so much of their appeal and intrigue might still lie in their extensive use of sampling, but Hype Williams—or, er, sorry, Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland—have never quite sounded so purely themselves before. Maybe that's why they're using their own names, then.
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Tracklist: Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland - Black Is Beautiful 01. 1 (Venice Dreamway)
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