Lo-fi beats? Check. Icy/queasy synths? Check. Weird samples and cool album cover? Check. Original artists, warmth in the production or relevance in 2017? Fail, fail, fail. A new album supposedly from ‘Hype Williams’ does not feature Dean Blunt or Inga Copeland, and sounds like a cynical rip-off of what the group achieved through several ground breaking albums in the early 2010s.
From the start, Hype Williams was a confusing proposition. First, if you search for the name online, the first hit you’ll get is Hype Williams the video producer, best known for the Gold Digger and Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It vids. These days a search for the ‘band’ also produces some results, but it wasn’t always the case, with searches pretty much turning up zilch. Indeed, since Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland began releasing music under the Hype Williams moniker there was little information on hand whatsoever. Yet since 2009, a series of Hype Williams EPs and LPs began to trickle out from quality alternative labels such as De Stijl, Hippos In Tanks and Hyperdub.
The largely beat-driven music was definitely out there: many tracks sounded self-indulgent and conceived and performed with seemingly no audience in mind. But there was something about the whole thing – the production was super lo-fi and minimalistic, but for many of the tracks the grooves and melodies and tone were spot-on, hinting a deeper truth through the hazy recordings. A Boards of Canada influence was there, with syrupy beats and synths, but the short attention span, gags, samples, cover versions and earnest spoken word pieces presented a fascinating mess to listen to that rewarded repeated listens.
The first LP, Untitled (2010), had absolutely no information on the cover, sleeve or disc itself. An artistic statement? Mos def. The short follow-up (also released in 2010) went the opposite way for a title: What Happens When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Gettin Reel. One Nation (2011) followed, and is probably the best entry into the Hype Williams sound as produced by Blunt and Copeland. Finally dropping the Hype Williams name, Black is Beautiful (2012) featuring the word EBONY in large white block letters on an entirely red album was released by Blunt and Copeland on Hyperdub and is a natural progression of the previous LPs, and really should be considered the fourth, and last, album in the series.
Since parting ways, Blunt and Copeland have been busy. Dean Blunt has gone on to produce his soul-infused yet defiantly obfuscated albums under his own name such as The Redeemer (2012), The Narcissist II (2013) and Black Metal (2014), and also as Babyfather with last year’s BBF hosted by DJ Escrow, all to critical acclaim. Inga Copeland has had more limited output in the past five years, and whose style tends towards the avant-beat scene, but released Because I’m Worth It in 2014 (including single Advice to Young Girls featuring Actress) and more recently as Lolina, including live performances this year with beat scientist Shackleton.
OK OK… so what does the new LP sound like? Unlike the feel of the original Hype Williams – lo-fi, grainy atmospherics – for the new sounds think thin, cheap synths and beats with melodies that appear to mimic the sounds of the original Hype Williams. Interestingly, the new tracks kind of actually sound like elements of tracks from previous releases, with spacey sounds and warbling synth lines. Except this time around, the sounds are largely devoid of any soul, vocals or life really. It’s mostly short track after track that ape a Hype-Williams-like sound, even including some sampled dialogues, but without any interest or hints at anything other than a cash-in of what Blunt and Copeland achieved during the brief 3 or 4 years they made music together.
What’s going on here? Of the several rumours about what this band is about, one is that it’s the project of a certain Denna Francis Glass, with a rotating cast of musicians every 5 years. But nobody knows for sure. One thing we do know is that Blunt and Copeland have left the building, and why anyone would want to release an album with the name ‘Hype Williams’ performed by completely different musicians is beyond my understanding.
According to press releases, the beatmakers here are Slaughter and Silvermane, who do their best I suppose to mime the sounds of original line-up, and hence get a few points for trying. But they naturally come up woefully short, as it not their own style but that of Blunt and Copeland after all. As for their participation – why don’t these guys try releasing music under their own names following their own muse? On the other hand, what if this Glass person IS the real puppet-master of this project who penned tracks for all Hype Williams releases with Blunt and Copeland producing the songs she wrote during their 5 years at the helm? If this is so, the tracks on this release still don’t engage or excite in the least. Lose-lose.
If there’s a plus to the release of this product, it could be an incentive to track down the original albums, hence my focus here on the early releases. And if you dig those original releases, then the subseqeunt Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland projects may also be worth pursuing. But buyer beware. To paraphrase Joe Strummer: phoney Beatlemania has not bitten the dust, but is alive and well in 2017 apparently.