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Reviews

Babyfather
BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow Ben Cardew , March 24th, 2016 14:08

Dean Blunt doesn't make it easy to love him: alongside his genre-swapping, magpie musical mind there runs a brilliantly contrarian streak that has seen him variously proclaim his love for Oasis and stage an art exhibition that consisted of a single stock photo. This middle-brow art pranksterism makes Blunt one of the singularly most interesting British producers of the moment but it can be hard to enjoy his work without wondering if the joke isn't somehow on you.

This is especially true of the first full album from Babyfather, BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow, a group that comprises Blunt and the (probably fictional) DJ Escrow, with contributions from Arca and Micachu. The album, which follows a couple of mixtapes, comes accompanied by the usual array of diversionary tacts, including a testimonial from Idris Elba promising that BBF "will be in rotation at every club, at every party and coming out the speakers of every car", and a cover sporting the eye-bothering image of a day-glo Union Jack hoverboard on a platform high above London.

BBF, it is fair to say, probably won't be coming out of too many car speakers this summer. It's far too maudlin, for a start, haunted by the ghosts of violence, crime, drugs and decaying relationships (albeit with a hint of optimism towards the album's end). But there is enough here to make that situation at least less improbable than with most of Blunt's work: whereas the music of Hype Williams - Blunt's musical duo with Inga Copeland - came wreathed in layers of fuzz and wobble, BBF rests on clean musical lines, with simple synth melodies or sampled strings rubbing up against beats that nod to club-friendly musical trends (trap on 'Motivation' or grime on 'Juice', for example). 

Massive Attack are an unexpected reference point, both in BBF's melodic dub bass lines and the casual-to-the-point-of-coma vocals, which raise the smokey spectre of Tricky or 3D in Massive's Blue Lines era. As with those two MCs, the vocals on BBF suggest improvisation and spontaneity, with simple melodies and rhymes gently pushed to their limits in a way that is hypnotic, affecting and very low key.

Cut through the theoretical padding and extraneous crap of BBF, in fact, and what you're left with is something close to a modern pop album, which continues the journey into song structures Blunt started on 2014's Black Metal, albeit with considerable more musical consistency than that genre-hopping work. 

'Meditation' (featuring Arca) has the kind of softly addictive chorus your postman would whistle if he was into reggae, while 'God Hour' (featuring Micachu) pairs a lolling beat with a string line that wouldn't sound out of place on breakfast radio. 'Greezebloc', meanwhile, is as close to straightforward hip-hop as Blunt has ever wandered.

That said, there is a fair amount of crap to cut through on BBF: 'PROLIFIC DEAMONS' and 'Flames' are bathed in distortion so extreme that listening to them on headphones is out of the question, while Escrow pops up on three eminently skippable spoken-word interludes. 

Worst of all is opening track, 'Stealth Intro', five excruciating minutes of acoustic guitar and a vocal sample that declares “This makes me proud to be British" over and over again in the unchanging tone of musical water torture. What, you may wonder, does it all mean? Is it a reflection on British identity? An art prank to ward off the casual listener? Or an in joke for Idris Elba, who once described Blunt's music as "a loop with talking over it" to Noisey?

We'll probably never know. But in the end this uncertainty doesn't matter: BBF is a rare example of an album that invites both arty introspection and head nodding. Much like Blunt himself, BBF is not always easy to love. But that makes the eventual rewards even more satisfying.

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