If you expect Dean Blunt’s new album to reveal the mysteries behind his intentions as an artist, under this, or the myriad of other enigmatic pseudonyms he uses, then prepare to be disappointed. Indeed, the only thing that seems truly un-muddied by the end of The Redeemer, is that Blunt has created an intriguing, hypnotic and beautiful record that resonates around your head long after the music stops.
In the past few years Blunt has been chiefly responsible, alongside vocalist Inge Copeland for the foggy-headed production and otherworldly electronica that fueled the sound of Hype Williams (no… not that one) through a number of albums, videos and EPs. This collaboration-by-way-of-art project culminated with another debut of sorts, 2012’s excellent Black Is Beautiful, which was released under their full pseudonyms, dropping the ‘Hype’, but keeping their paired back, intangible electronic fug. Since then, Blunt has gone it alone, albeit with Copeland never too far from his side. His first official solo debut, The Narcissist II, was the remix of a previously free mixtape that brought something fresh in the shape of Blunt’s stoned vocals and a loose narrative, but felt too much like a hangover from his previous work, devoid of anything truly revelatory. It was another disposable curio in a musical landscape populated by disposable curios.
With that in mind, you wouldn’t be blamed for approaching The Redeemer with trepidation, but from the lush classical strings of opener “I Run New York” (which itself is sampled from the lush classical strings of K-Ci & JoJo’s ‘90s mega-ballad, “All My Life”), the difference in tone from his previous work is immediately apparent. At its core, it’s a concept album about the breakdown of a relationship, loosely alluded to through a series of voicemails that pepper the album and provide a narrative backbone. They feel deeply private but also distant and ghostly and their inclusion creates layers of disorientation while also bringing a cinematic quality to proceedings. Although in many ways these messages are a maguffin which allow Blunt to direct us across the landscape of an imploding relationship, using this personal mental anguish to explore broader themes of love, loneliness and loss. Blunt playing the heartbroken crooner, lost in the dark of smoky nightclub, “Call me when your heart is empty/Happy we can still be friends,” he sings in weary acceptance over the sampled strings of “The Pedigree”, or on album closer “Brutal”, a dark piece of R&B where he gravely intones “You have gone away, and I’m still here” over the rise and fall of a haunting piano solo.
These songs hold a tenderness that has often been absent from the distant static of his sound, a new found rawness he only reinforced through his collaborative choices. From title track, “The Redeemer”, which sees him reunite with Copeland, her soft falsetto floating over a drunken accordion and Morricone-esque percussion, to album highlights “Imperial Gold” and “Demon”, one a truly sublime piece of acoustic folk, the other a feverish nightmare, both driven by Joanne Robertson’s crystalline voice. However, in many ways, it’s Blunt’s vocal performance which is most intriguing, hardly possessing the most conventionally enrapturing tone, he’s crafted a selection of songs which slowly unravel around his brooding, broken and ethereal voice. From wistful and woozy lament “Need 2 Let You Go”, a jittery music box of electronica and jazz, to lead single, “Papi” a languid love letter that cracks and strains under his vocals, part Burt Bacharach, part David Lynch.
Of course, the focus isn’t solely on vocals as disparate but enthralling sounds inform the entire tone of The Redeemer, from the harmoniously repetitive harp sampling of “Flaxen” to the prog-guitar jam of “All Dogs Go to Heaven”. Instrumental atmospherics interlace the album and are in many ways just as surprising, using R&B, jazz, classical, folk, funk and even new-age guitars. This is possibly best exemplified on the meditative bookends that are, “Seven Seals of Affirmation” and “Walls of Jericho”, a pair of tracks that are both infused with the gentle lapping of waves, but while the former is accompanied by a brittle acoustic guitar, the latter is flecked with a foreboding synth which serves to disorient and wrong foots the listener.
In many ways The Redeemer is like a half remembered dream, an esoteric vision which could feel awkward and fragmentary, but instead elevates itself above the sum of its many parts to create something genuine, surprising and often transcendent. For those willing to be enveloped by it, it will wrap itself around you refusing to let go and reward you with an experience unlike many other albums you’ll hear this year.