, June 26th, 2013 05:12
The output of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland has knowingly shrouded itself in mystery since their emergence. The Redeemer, however, feels tangible and canonical like no work by either of Hype Williams' noms de plume before. Blunt's mysterious 2012 album/mixtape The Narcissist II is quickly drawn into sharp focus as The Redeemer ostensibly picks up right where the former left off, from the get-go confirming the nagging suspicion that his ongoing Narcissist series was more than simply thematically linked, that it was in fact a progressing narrative, an experimental pop opera.
The Narcissist II saw a lead character – a young man battling his own conceit and resultant aggression, even violence against his partner – intermittently portrayed by the guest appearances of a sampled arguing couple or Blunt himself. Here, on 'The Pedigree', we're filled in on the story so far, and Blunt seems to be playing the lead himself once again. Tenderly and somewhat regretfully, he breaks up with his lover: "For me to get to know you better, yeah / There's something I should let you know / To me you're just another lady / You're gonna have to let me go."
The whole of The Redeemer is themed around this breakup, and throughout its 19 tracks Blunt dwells on all aspects of his failed romance. Guest vocal appearances from Joanne Robertson on 'Demon' and 'Imperial Gold', and Inga Copeland on the title track, play like the voices of women in the protagonist's mind. 'Make It Official' seems to be a bitter backwards look at the lovers' high points, while 'Demon' finds Blunt's lead character in the angry throngs of post-breakup disillusionment and anger. Over pounding toms and Dungeon Keeper synth choirs, he tells of discovering his girlfriend's unfaithfulness, while the ear-splitting sound of glass smashing and cars honking bluntly expresses the jealous rage we know so well from The Narcissist II.
The strange relationship Blunt has had with truth and reality in the past is still present and correct, yet The Redeemer moves away from the tape-hiss camouflage and heavy reliance on pop samples that permeated its prequel. The Narcissist II was either over-produced or underperformed to the point where the boundaries between sample and instrument were blurred; only Blunt's voice was left largely unscathed (though still reverbed out of recognition and stubbornly out of key) to guide us through the menagerie of samples and spin the yarn of a relationship gone violently awry. Everything about The Redeemer, in contrast, sees the artist knowingly emerging from the shadows. His voice is now front and centre for most of the album, with vocal effects applied sparingly in favour of uncharacteristic clarity. The music itself has undergone an almost Jekyll & Hyde-like transformation, (albeit in reverse, somewhat mirroring the narrative), with this album representing the sensitive former to Narcissist II's monstrous latter.
The balance of loops and samples versus acoustic and original instrumentation has totally flipped, with tracks like 'Flaxen' consisting entirely of modestly composed and expertly arranged synth lines. 'Flaxen' was previously leaked well in advance of the full album's release, tellingly described as being 'from The Narcissist III'. An instrumental, it's a work of amateur genius, with Blunt utilising the lion's share of whatever classical musical knowledge he possesses (as ever with Hype Williams, it's hard to tell quite what quantity that might be) in perfect harmony with his structural and arrangement sensibilities. A lapping harp ostinato is gradually joined by countering melodies from vibes, piano and choirs, sounding like some long-lost Philip Glass MIDI sketch circa Powaqqatsi.
The multi-layered lyrical, musical and visual imagery presented by The Redeemer throws up a host of questions. The framing given to the album by both its title and the hands locked in prayer on the cover pose the most glaring one of all - what exactly is the titular Redeemer? Is it the protagonist himself, eventually redeemed by an album's worth of introverted reflection? Is it the path of mulish denial and chemical excess that eases our hero's grief? The album's most melodic moment and grand finale, 'Brutal' hints at the latter, but it ultimately remains unclear.
The Redeemer is a singular achievement. It's as much a mosaic as it is a mixtape, and as much a novel as it is a daytime soap. While the partial abandonment of sample-led chaos and the demystification of the music's origins will most likely raise the eyebrows of many fans, it's foolish to feel that something's been lost. The stuttering electric guitars and drums on instrumental outsider trip 'All Dogs Go To Heaven' may sound like a late night Amon Düul outtake, but it keeps alive the roaming 'play first, think later' compositional aesthetic of Hype Williams.
Even if this is the least 'lo fi' either of Hype Williams have ever sounded, the whole affair still really does sound like it was recorded in either a bedroom or an asylum, which only adds further potency to its tale of a regretful ex-lover's introversion. It's as intoxicating a listen as anything we've heard from the duo to date, drawing its power from the combination of Blunt's ideas, fluid and often semi-literate musicality, and world-weary persona. Album highlight 'Papi' typifies this, launching straight in at the deep end and sampling the closing moments of Pink Floyd's 'Echoes', while Blunt's beleaguered drawl and layperson keyboard noodling unhurriedly wax lyrical on a lost love. These are still the late night jams and recklessly assembled demos we look forward to, but this time there's a story to tell.