Dean Blunt is the kind of musician who inspires even the headiest of critics to admit in think pieces that their take was “doomed from the start.” He is the kind of musician that has been dissected, questioned, and subject to the wildest interpretations, theorizing, and speculation. Even as he invites all this, Blunt remains nearly impervious to any kind neat conclusion. And on April Fools day of this year, like only Dean Blunt would do, he is releasing a new album called BBF: Hosted by DJ Escrow, under the banner of a possibly fictitious group called Babyfather. It is over 50 minutes long and stretches to an impossible 23 tracks. It brandishes a jaw dropping pièce de résistance of a cover depicting a Union Jack-decaled hoverboard overlooking a hazy London skyline.
From the title, it seems that Blunt is playing an obscure joke of some kind, maybe flicking his nose at the mixtape culture found on Datpiff and Livemixtapes. In BBF, Blunt (I think) alternates between a high-pitched Quasimoto-esque flow and his low baritone drawl. The squealing rap voice that haunts most of this album delivers some of the most important moments, specifically a refrain that occurs three times (“Stealth,” “Stealth Intro,” and “Stealth Outro”) in the album: “This makes me proud to be British.” This line is repeated over and over and over again, surrounded by a wash of saccharine strings, and it verges on numbing. This refrain opens up the album, and it stretches on painfully for several minutes, a point at which most sane people would just stop listening.
The rest of album splits itself between two attitudes, a stream-of-consciousness confessional and a potpourri of ironic tropes directed at American hip-hop. It boasts some very snazzy features, namely appearances from Arca and Micachu. But these tracks are red herrings; they prick the interest of someone scanning the tracklist, but for the most part are extremely forgettable. In “Killuminati” he repeats “another one,” an obvious joking nod to DJ Khaled. He hints at “exclusives” in “Prolific Demons” and tries on a mask of bravado in “Meditations” [ft. Arca]: “20 bands everyone can see/20 bands don’t stand for me/20 bands got me up in the sky…Get these white girls out of my home.” This for the most part does not work for Blunt, and the theme takes up more than half of the album. It might be the album’s narrative thrust and conceptual core, but like a lot of Blunt’s concepts, it’s overstated and hangs very loosely.
When Blunt does make himself available and emotive it’s hard to ignore. These are the spots where the album starts to work. On “Escrow 3” he admits “trust is a luxury I cannot afford” and he doubts the veracity of his friendships: “I couldn’t tell who was real and who wasn’t.” His voice almost cracks as he asks “If I die/would you cry?” It’s cathartic and feels vaguely shameful to be witnessing. The moment underscores that beneath the irony, this is as vulnerable Blunt has ever been. It is a painfully raw, emotionally generous, politically charged, intensely intelligent, sometimes unlistenable album.The project is, most of all, a fascinating peek into the psyche of man who we are still miles away from understanding, and when I listen to I can only see a man in the distance getting farther and farther as I try to get closer.