The Narcissist II
Others: Julee Cruise, Sade, Inga Copeland, Hype Williams
Hype Williams’ music roams, meanders, drifts. The group’s members, Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, bury their stories so deep that listening is like a mindfuck in slow motion. It’s a seductive, intoxicating blend of warped R&B, narcotic dub, broken drone, and comatose hip-hop, but their music signifies nothing/everything so confusingly that it unhinges itself from stylistic barriers, swims down your throat, and infects your body like a virus. The state they put you in isn’t one of hypnagogia or mysticism, but of bodily awareness: in its refusal to commit itself both aesthetically and conceptually, the music has no option but to root itself in the flesh, sweaty and foul-smelling, swishing and swaying away from the clinks and clanks of magic and rainbows. It’s music for the beheaded body, for the transient flesh-state, for the ever-shifting in-between.
If Hype Williams’ music fetishizes the drift in the context of the body, then The Narcissist II, a self-released solo mixtape by Blunt (stream here, download here), acts as a particularly noteworthy foil. For all the evasive dodge-balling — reflected also in their shrouded identities and multiple truth-tellings (Who exactly are Rory Gibb, Roy Nnawuchi, Karen Glass, Denna Glass, Bo Khat Eternal Troof Family Band, and Paradise Sisters?) — the moments of what one might call ‘song’ are framed by a story about abuse and infidelity told through scattered audio clips. Paranoia. Suspense. Rage. Violence. It’s all narcissistic stuff. But tethering the floating, impotent sounds of unstable synths, chink’d rhythms, and brilliant off-tune karaoke-ing (courtesy of Dean, except for a Julee Cruise-sampled track that features Copeland) to such a clear narrative encourages a functional reading: a hierarchy in sound materializes, where the tension-creating becomes complementary rather than an end unto itself. The result is a sort of dragging panic, a grotesque scrawl of ‘deconstructed’ R&B whose impact is muddied with just the right amount of commentary and absurdism.
To be sure, the drift is still clearly heard — songs fade in and out, moods blend unsettlingly, rhythms overlap — but contrary to a lot of sampled music, many of which depend on the structuring of loops to convey a defined trajectory, the insertion of the narrative clips here sounds like a violation. Not in the context of aesthetic flow, but in the context of more transient properties, like trying to anchor something that would otherwise float away. The difference is more easily heard/felt when comparing The Narcissist II to its original CD-R incarnation from late 2011, which showcased many of the songs/moments that appear on part two, but without the audio clips. In this context, these already poorly-lit songs sound even more sketch-like and stitched-together, adapting sloppily to the context in which they’re presented. It’s a tension that’s made even clearer when re-listening to some of the tracks in their detached YouTube origins or by comparing II’s opening drone to its recontextualized form on Blunt and Copeland’s upcoming Black Is Beautiful release on Hyperdub.
All of which is to say that the drift on The Narcissist II is perhaps about movement above all else, exemplified not only in the rhythms, but also in Blunt’s revisionist, cut-and-paste approach to music-making/-distribution (a slipstream methodology that deadens the impact of reviews like this one, which is decidedly after-the-fact and beside-the-point). Blunt has proven himself to be a master participant in this aesthetic float-game, and The Narcissist II is his demented billet-doux to the gratification that continues to elude.
01. The Narcissist II