Album Reviews

Dan Black – ((un))

(un) UK release date: 13 July 2009

Creating a buzz song can be both a blessing and a curse. When Dan Black’s Hypntz spread through the music blogs like wild fire last year, it seemed a bright future was guaranteed. Created using a loop taken from Rihanna’s mega-hit Umbrella and featuring the lyrics from Notorious B.I.G’s Hypnotize, it was the kind of odd, uplifting pop song that people seemed to have stopped making.

When album samplers were sent out earlier this year, Hypntz appeared in demo form, paving the way for its release as a single in the future. Unfortunately, Hypntz couldn’t appear on the oddly punctuated ((un)) – the estate of Notorious B.I.G refused clearance of the lyrics – so Black had to hastily re-write the lyrics, creating the somewhat more downbeat Symphonies.

Lyrically it deals with the fact that Hypntz was pulled at the eleventh hour, creating a weird song within a song motif that rather ruins the overall effect. It’s still a great song, but there was something wonderful about hearing “girls walk to us, wanna do us, screw us, who us, yeah, poppa and Puff” half-rapped by a white man whose voice is said to resemble “Quentin Crisp meets Liam Gallagher”.

It also offered some bravado and a hint of danger to a singer whose own lyrics are often depressingly soft-centred. I Love Life lists various items of drug paraphernalia but is so polite and mannered that he could be detailing his shopping list. Elsewhere Cigarette Packs revolves around the line “cocoa you do me well”, which even Belle & Sebastian would dismiss as being too twee. The dreary Cocoon revisits the themes laid out by Symphonies, acting as some kind of self-help mantra, urging himself to carry on with this whole singing malarkey.

Thankfully, the album is saved by a handful of stellar tracks, from the elastic, pulsating baseline of the brilliant Yours, to the urgent rush of previous single Alone. Both songs play up to Black’s strengths, with melodies falling over themselves to be heard, whilst the syncopated, cut-up electronic rhythms suit his singing style. Life Slash Dreams and Wonder both prove that he can slow things down and still hold your interest, the former featuring some excellent percussive beats, the latter a chorus that would sound ideal blaring out of a radio. U + Me = is also excellent, not least because it features what sounds like a man burping over a fizzing beat.

((un)) was a genuine labour of love for Black, who pored over its completion in a small Paris studio, usually working alone for twelve hour shifts. Such precision and attention to detail is evident throughout but it also means there’s no sense of looseness about the album. Each beat, each vocal line, each melody seems laser-guided and second-guessed, which ends up nullifying the overall effect. Ecstasy, for example, has been re-tooled since its initial incarnation on the album sampler, Black slowing it down and adding a wholly unnecessary guitar solo, which very nearly ruins what’s gone before.

As with various other hotly tipped new artists, Dan Black’s career may well rest on how well this debut album performs. Like V.V. Brown, Black has yet to score a chart hit and so far radio has proved impervious to his charms, which is a shame given the flashes of genuine talent on show. It’s these flashes, however, that highlight the shortcomings of some of the other tracks on ((un)), leaving plenty of room for improvement for that difficult second album.

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Dan Black – ((un))