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Album Review: Dan Black - 'Un'
Despite the new year hype, there's little of substance on the synth-popper's debut
favourite band before it, scooping a place in the BBC Sound Of 2009 might just be pop’s new poisoned chalice. Halfway through the year and La Roux and target="http:/www.nme.com/artists/little-boots" target="_blank">Little Boots have jumped from tip sheets to magazine covers. Meanwhile, Dan Black is still waiting for underground buzz to convert into actual fame, and worrying exactly when that ‘next big thing’ tag is gonna start to drag like a millstone.
Let’s have a weigh of his debut album. ‘Un’ was pieced together after Black, frontman of indie-rockers The Servant, dumped his old band, moved to Paris and started recording solo with a laptop, inspired, as his MySpace puts it, by “Jay-Z, Sigur Rós etc” (good luck joining the dots there). Originally, it was due to kick off with Black’s blog hit, ‘Hypntz’ a cover of Notorious BIG’s ‘Hypnotize’ backed with John Carpenter synths and the drums from Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ which saw this Buckinghamshire boy cooing tributes to “my hooligans in Brooklyn” in angelic sing-song. On the eve of its release as a single, though, Biggie’s estate refused permission so instead, Black rewrote it as ‘Symphonies’, using the loss of the lyrics as a jump-off for sparkling heartbreak pop.
So ‘Symphonies’ is great. Black’s problem is topping it. Sure, ‘Un’ has its moments: ‘Alone’ refines jerky post-punk bass and cracked falsetto into gleaming pop music, while ‘Pump My Pumps’ is the sort of glitched-up club banger Calvin Harris would flog Dizzee’s number to get his mitts on.
But after a few listens, just when these songs should be beginning to grip, you get the creeping sensation Black’s slick production chops are
essentially papering over flimsy songs. Stripped of its R&B skitter,
‘Cocoon’ is the indie-lite ballad that boy bands release as the fourth
single off the album. Thom Yorke will be overjoyed to hear his vocal
register employed by someone out to change the world with “my plans on the back of a cigarette pack” (‘Cigarette Pack’). And the album’s final third vaguely philosophical songs called things like ‘Life Slash Dreams’ and ‘Let Go’ see Black slowly retreat into his own navel as synths wobble pointlessly. Truth is, Dan Black surfed this hype wave by doing a clever thing with bits of other people’s songs. ‘Symphonies’ aside, he’s still got to find himself in them. Will he get a second chance?
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