Black Is Beautiful cover

Black Is Beautiful

Released

For a while, the duo that once called themselves Hype Williams built up a sense of evasive mystery that rivaled their eventual labelmate Burial. But then they started to switch up their approach, trading their secondhand video-auteur-sourced alias for individual names that still didn’tt match their real ones and releasing an album where only one track has a title turned out to be merely the simplest announcements of their ramped-up misdirection. The title Black Is Beautiful and its Ebony magazine-logo cover are themselves such obviously declarative generations-old statements of purpose that it feints at a cultural specificity that never arrives (and was probably never in a hurry to get on its way). Instead, it’s a bewildering panoply of internet-compressed global-pop-goes-avant tropes — smeared, Brainfeeder-y drum-rattling drone-jazz (“Venice Dreamway”), ’80s VHS dream-pop hauntology (“2”), a restless take on footwork so mutable it threatens to trip over itself (“12”) — that feel too confident in the power of these influences to fully succumb to irony poisoning. Nothing really coheres, and somehow that context collapse feels thrilling, though it definitely helps that its collection of short-enough-for-punk outbursts are demarcated by a midpoint shift (dynamite-fuse abstract hip-hop grotesquerie “9”; the wildly queasy 9 ½-minute minimal-synth fever dream “10”) that serve as a make-or-break encounter with longer-form sonic disorientation. And while the lo-fi-by-necessity production might take on a sketch-like quality, the thing about sketches is that they can often be more evocative in their obscured, half-formed details than any glossy final render could ever be.

Nate Patrin

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