Dean Blunt
Photo: Courtesy of Rough Trade Records

Dean Blunt Crafts Another Confounding Work of Avant-Indie Weirdness on ‘Black Metal 2’

Slight but rich in tonal complexities, Dean Blunt’s Black Metal 2 is another musical puzzle box from the enigmatic London musician.

Black Metal 2
Dean Blunt
Rough Trade
11 June 2021

When listening to a new Dean Blunt release, it’s impossible not to be wary of some sort of trap being set. His body of work, comprised of numerous albums, collaborations, and mixtapes, an opera created with Mica Levi and music videos directed for Panda Bear and Actress, is vast, varied, and sort of impenetrable. This eclectic portfolio, combined with his penchant for performance art-style trickery (in 2016, he famously listed a toy car stuffed with weed on eBay), can give him the appearance of an arch provocateur perpetually eager to prank the unsuspecting and naive consumer.

However, a disarming feature of Blunt’s solo work is that these traps are rarely sprung. In spite of all that we know about him, his music is often the least unpredictable part of his artistic identity. His work under his own name, specifically his most well-known album – 2014’s Black Metal, is a variation on hypnagogic indie pop, utilizing woozy guitars, flat drums, and laconic vocals to create an ethereal and off-kilter sense of time and place. The experimentalism is focused, compelling, and quietly bold, yet the oblique, provocative character that is so often associated with Blunt rarely actually appears.

Perhaps this is the ultimate joke. The best prank to pull is the one that leaves the victim unsure of whether or not they’re being pranked, right? But maybe this analysis is also taking the wrong angle. Maybe the aesthetic core of Blunt’s musical work is simply as it appears – tilting closer to earnest sincerity. Black Metal 2 offers predictably complex answers to this question. The cover art is a clear nod to Dr. Dre’s 2001, utilizing that most common of postmodern tricks – parody. However, is Blunt using this technique for ironic purposes? The overall tone of Black Metal 2 mostly suggests that he isn’t, meaning the cover art’s allusion collapses our relationship with this familiar style of pastiche.

This style of analysis can be extremely dry. The ultimate question is – does the music of Black Metal 2 work or not? In short – yes, it does. This is perhaps Blunt’s most accessible album, even more so than the first Black Metal. To expand on an earlier point, Blunt’s work here is not at all challenging or inaccessible. Despite the surprise release, parodic cover art, and all the other intellectual baggage that comes with Blunt’s persona, his work is much more straightforward and oddly likable than anyone familiar with him, but not his music would assume.

“DASH SNOW” is the most purely hypnagogic pop cut, utilizing simple, positive lyrics. Meanwhile, “WOOSAH” is a gentle, folky instrumental, though one undercut with a deep vein of melancholia. Album highlights include “NIL BY MOUTH”, which features country-like acoustic guitars and some beautiful female vocals from Joanne Robertson on its back half. Blunt’s lyrics here are cryptic, though they seem to be referencing some sort of breakdown or collapse and successfully convey a sense of emotional heft. “MUGU” is also really strong, coating an intriguing narrative atop layered, finger-picked guitars.

If there is a possible moral drive behind Black Metal 2, it’s a desire to reclaim this style of indie guitar music from the white crowd that it’s most commonly associated with it. The n-word is featured on the lyrics of most tracks, so often that you assume, it has to be a deliberate choice, given Blunt’s generally sparse and precise use of lyrics. There’s also some UK-specific street slang thrown in, such as the punny title “SKETAMINE”. It makes you realize just how much this style of indie-pop is devoid of Black voices, and the more you hear Blunt’s deep, commanding drawl, the more piercing the thought becomes.

All of these interpretations of Black Metal 2 may ultimately be redundant. There’s every chance that Blunt is deliberately scattering these themes and ideas pell-mell, laying a breadcrumb trail that may ultimately lead to nowhere. However, if you go searching, there’s intrigue and idiosyncrasy to be found. It’s not exactly a work of brilliance – the tracks are too slight, and the whole tone is too wilfully perverse for that. Nevertheless, Blunt has crafted something undeniably engrossing for those willing to play along with his strange game.

RATING 8 / 10
FROM THE POPMATTERS ARCHIVES
PopMatters