Inga Copeland & Dean Blunt - "Venice Dreamway" (Black is Beautiful)
In hindsight, the graduation of exciting Berlin-based London duo Hype Williams to Hyperdub seems an inevitable conclusion to their effervescent development. After all, the label has slowly been expanding on its dubstep roots to encompass innovative takes on dance and dub sound, from the lovers’ rock of King Midas Sound to the electro-pop of Darkstar, and Inga Copeland and Dean Blunt have always operated in the shady zones where these various strands interconnect.
For their debut album on the label, the pair have forgone their “band” name to highlight their combined individualities, something that feels like a declaration of maturity, much in the way noise musicians relinquish pseudonyms when they want their music to be taken more seriously as an art form. In any case, Black is Beautiful is a different beast from Untitled and One Nation, even as it toys with similar sounds: hazy electronic pop, hip hop and house.
Hype Williams were rather awkwardly lumped in with the h-pop/hauntology sound after the release of their debut album in 2010, a shortcut that did their peculiar music a disservice. It never seemed to contain the wafts of nostalgia that defines those genres, instead feeling unsettlingly futuristic. Listening to Black is Beautiful is like driving through a deserted city at night whilst the person in the passenger seat hyperactively flicks through channels on the radio. The approach to sampling and experimenting with pop music archetypes is minimalist, songs rarely extending beyond a couple of minutes, and when they do, such as on the nine-minute ghost-dub “10,” the focus is on repetitive drum machine rhythms, sampled vocals that drop into the mix like slabs of solid pixels, and insistent synth drones. All but one track (“Venice Dreamway”) are simply numbered, and this mathematical angle is reflected in the songs’ brevity and neatly-enclosed sonic spaces: “2” emerges from “Venice Dreamway” on neat, melodic piano melodies, a beautiful female voice intoning a sweetly romantic ballad. “4,” in contrast, is a moody, disjointed post-jazz instrumental, somewhere between new age and Throbbing Gristle’s “Hot on the Heels of Love” performed at a snail’s pace. Each track sits wonderfully alongside the others, even as they encapsulate very separate musical zones: “Venice Dreamway” careens forward on polyrhythmic free-jazz drumming and inchoate noises, yet somehow segues perfectly into the hypnotism of “2.”
A lot of Hype Williams’s allure has been the development of a certain mystique, which they seem to extend here with tall tales like Copeland training with Arsenal Ladies’ soccer team and Blunt being involved in a spate of taxidermist robberies. That gimmick ultimately doesn’t matter -- the music speaks for itself, and even if it carries its own sense of elusiveness, Black is Beautiful is above all a stirring collection of adventurous post-pop songs.