Dean Blunt Black Metal 2 Rough Trade
Few British artists working today – in any medium – are as consistently invigorating as Dean Blunt. Ever since he and Inga Copeland steered hypnagogic pop’s somnambulant shimmer into darker places as Hype Williams, Blunt’s single-minded dedication to wrong-footing fans and critics alike has seen him dip into avant-R&B explorations of obsession (The Narcissist 2) to corrosive electro (2018’s underrated collaboration with Delroy Edwards, Desert Sessions) and the relatively straight neo-soul of his Blue Iverson project.
For all his wanton refusal to stay pegged to one sound for too long, there is a space he finds himself inhabiting that sits somewhere between the hiss and murk of Find Out What Happens When People Stop Being Polite, Start Gettin Reel and the ecclesiastical oddness of Inna, the 2017 opera he co-composed with Mica Levi. And it is here where Blunt’s most straight-forwardly pleasurable, and some might argue best, music exists.
Dreamily melancholy, the music in this mode carries with it a sumptuous weariness. In large part that sense of langour comes from what, in recent years, has been Blunt’s most distinctive asset: his voice. If the first Black Metal sounded like an English summer’s day slowly fading into half-forgotten nothingness, the sequel takes Blunt and his lushly lugubrious baritone somewhere distinctly transatlantic.
Calling Black Metal 2 Blunt’s cosmic Americana record might be over-egging the pudding, but tracks like the gorgeous DASH SNOW and the zig-zagging ZaZA are rife with twangs and twinkles redolent of the dust bowls and highways which make up the softly psychedelic America of the likes of Cass McCombs, Steve Gunn and the rest of the acid eating children of Alan Lomax. Elsewhere we get haunted Laurel Canyon unease (the lurching NIL BY MOUTH), Morricone-on-Mogadon (SKETAMINE), and last-chance saloon wonk (SEMTEX).
Blunt saves the best ‘till last, signing off with what might be his best one-two since he and Copeland closed out 2011’s One Nation with Break4Love and Untitled (And Your Batty’s So Round). Penultimate track WOOSAH — the only song on the record not anchored by Blunt’s weighty voice — is one of his most flat-out gorgeous works to date, an autumnal blend of stately strings, plump bass and creamy brass, coming on like a Kompakt Pop Ambient piece fed through William Basinski’s disintegration machine. If the early part of Black Metal 2 sees us following Dean Blunt through the arid expanses of the American South, here we’re watching night fall in New England.
Closer the rot is equally, if not more, sincerely beautiful. It sees Blunt and Joanne Robertson donning stetsons for a full-on Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra style waltz around early-hours, regret-filled strums. As a song, it’s wonderful. As an ending, it’s stunning.
OK, so nothing on this seven-years-in-the-waiting-sequel is quite as good as the first Black Metal’s 100. What we do have, though, is the most consistent Dean Blunt record to date. Black Metal 2 is an intimate, engrossing, all-too-brief successor to an album that helped bat away accusations of arch-pranksterism. Black Metal shocked with its (seeming) sincerity; Black Metal 2 delights with it.