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Dean Blunt - The Narcissist II

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Artist: Dean Blunt

Album: The Narcissist II

Label: Hippos in Tanks

Review date: Nov. 28, 2012

Hype Williams’s mission to become the Crispin Glover of the music game barrels forward at warp speed with the wide release of Dean Blunt’s The Narcissist II. Originally dropped as a free online mixtape around the time of Hype Williams’s Black Is Beautiful album earlier this year, Hippos in Tanks now unleashes a vinyl version for the greater consumption, and bafflement of the teeming hordes.

Blunt and his bandmate in Hype Williams, Inga Copeland, have made a point of maintaining a persona that strides, and blurs the margins between intention and indifference. Their music — and its presentation — can seem both cultivated and careless by turns, creating a mystique which has worked to their advantage so far. The flip side of this trick is that it sets up the conceit of an “art project” — a definition many bands would make pains to distance their music from (even as they pursue it). Blunt and Copeland both allegedly come from fine arts backgrounds, though they continually feed journalists increasingly improbable baits regarding their personal history. So what we have is two people hesitant to be defined as artists making decidedly art music as part of an art project. There, I said it.

The music Blunt and Copeland produce only reinforces the assumptions we often make about art projects. Arch and postmodern, it ingests a wide-ranging buffet of ideas and references, spitting them back out only partially digested much of the time. Blunt’s The Narcissist II is a natural outgrowth of this approach, pressing ambient drone, R&B and primitive electro through a layer of murk in quick succession. As with the Hype Williams releases, the penchant for sampling movie dialog remains strong (a trend that seems to be enjoying a revival at the moment). Blunt uses these intervals to add both menace and levity to the gradually shape-shifting vignettes here — and as with the best mixtapes, we wind up in a different place than we expected, without immediately noticing the shifting gears.

Though Blunt has clearly put a certain amount of thought into the general mood of The Narcissist II, I can easily imagine this record coming across as obtuse and jarring to the uninitiated. The samples put you on edge, the synth rumble slowly builds towards nothing. The melodies, when they’re there, are malnourished skeletons. He sings like a rapper over Brightblack Morning Light leftovers. He freestyles over lo-fi Grime beats. It may not be the biggest stretch to say your tolerance for the antics of Lil B may be some indication of whether you will appreciate the project underway here. In spirit (sometimes in sound), the two both exhibit the same fearlessness to go down any molehole, trusting their instincts to dig them out (relatively) unscathed. As Lil B has proven, this approach can be frustrating, too. We tend to expect coherent “statements” out of artists and get flustered when we don’t get them. This could just as easily be one of the take-aways of Blunt’s music ventures — anti-statement music, steadily invoking more questions than it answers. For now at least, the fragments are intriguing enough to keep me waiting for the next ones.

By Jon Treneff

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