Son Raw is not talking about the music video director in this review.
You know what? Fuck Hype Williams. I was beyond ready to diss this record. A formless bunch of trendy musical signifiers (Asian Pop, R&B, Juke) badly recorded to tape by arty scenesters who’ve enraptured the British music press by essentially acting like fey jerks? That’s the kind of BS I’m ready to give up my Hyperdub promo privileges to denounce. I was this close to doing it too because on first listen Hype William’s Black is Beautiful (released under their own names, Inga Copeland and Dean Blunt) is awful: chillwave washes devoid of proper songwriting, all filler no killer, style without substance pushed to an extreme. In fact, part of me just appreciates the opportunity to roast them for it in this opening paragraph.
Thing is, it grew on me. We have marijuana and lean to thank for that: I was suffering from a terrible cold and decided to give Hype Williams the benefit of my self-medicated doubt. And what d’ya know? It all kind of makes sense in the viral and medicated haze. Like the “Lost in Translation” soundtrack reduced to Pete Rock interludes dubbed to cassette, there’s an emotional core to this record fighting to break through the irony, winks and nods. It’s mostly found in the vocals. Tracks 2, 5 and 9 (the album is untitled, intro aside) feature Inga Copeland replicating the ghost of Japanese pop with all of that country’s futuristic optimism boiled down to a nostalgic core. For those wondering why Hyperdub would release a Glo-Fi record, there’s hints of Burial mixed with Sino-Grime in here and after a few blunts (or a shot of heron) this stuff begins to root itself in your mind. There’s pleasure to be had aimlessly walking through a city to this record and that noble purpose is enough to justify its existence despite any initial thoughts that this is all a big joke.
Which is not to say Black is Beautiful is without flaws. We didn’t really need the 10 minute Kraftwerk jam. Many of the release’s best ideas could have been fleshed out into actual songs. And I agree with the group’s refusal to grant interviews in so far as they actually stop granting interviews. Besides, any record that practically REQUIRES drugs to be enjoyable is on ideologically shakey ground. Weren’t Hyperdub running away from Dubstep to avoid half-baked music enjoyed solely by white people on bad drugs? It’d be a shame if they ran into the THC-soaked dead-ends inhabited by those ravers’ snotty, Foucault-reading older sibbings.
I’m not sure if Black is Beautiful will end up being one of my favorite albums this year or one of my most hated. That in itself is enough for me to recommend it to anyone searching for some new musical kicks. It’s a risky and not entirely successful venture but it’s one that rewards a few extra listens: like the half-remembered dreams this stuff imitates, you need to let it sit in the back of your mind rather than give it your full attention in order to get the best results. And if that requires enough herbal enhancement to qualify your body mass as a form of hash, then so be it.
(Oh and one more thing. Hyperdub: I draw the line at Laurel Halo. You’ll happily find me rocking out to Caspa’s latest material before I follow you to Williamsburg. Sometimes, the kids are right.)
MP3: Hype Williams – The Attitude Era (Free album)