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Dean Blunt - Soul on Fire Music Album Reviews

This sloppy 15-minute freebie reaffirms that, no matter how many names he takes or projects he starts, the former half of Hype Williams is always half-interesting.

Right now, any number of artists are working toward a Unified Theory of Pop, a synthesis of styles that’s able to appeal to hip-hop heads and indie rock fans alike while scoring Hollywood scenes and rendering cutting-edge club hits. Kanye may have gotten the closest, but you can hear the same quest through the likes of Dev Hynes, King Krule, and Mica Levi and the way their omnivorous musical interests converge. If he were capable of a cohesive statement, Dean Blunt might belong to that group, too.

Both as half of the hypnagogic pop obscurantists Hype Williams and across an array of releases under multiple names, Blunt has impressed, baffled, and underwhelmed, sometimes within a single song. At his ineffable best, he can connect the dots between Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, and Lauryn Hill, as he did while producing A$AP’s “Purity.” He’s been nearly impossible to keep tabs on lately, unless you’re able to click the WeTransfer links associated with a string of instant releases fast enough. In August, he issued an outlandish rock collection, Muggy Vol. 1. A few weeks ago, another YouTube link led to Inna, an experimental theater collaboration with Levi.

Now comes Soul on Fire, a mere quarter-hour of music that’s fragmented and unpolished, tossed off like a voice memo and hokey like a Mike Huckabee tweet. While it features the likes of A$AP Rocky, the rapper is relegated to hype-man role on opener “Chancer,” shouting about blunts against a backdrop made melodramatic by samples of swollen strings but deaded by Blunt’s somnambulant admission: “I ain’t even gonna try that hard.” At least he’s honest.

At almost every turn, Blunt half-heartedly mushes together aspects of hip-hop and lo-fi indie rock, making the earmarks of each genre sound ludicrous through juxtaposition. Tentative strums of untuned guitar and a primitive drum beat shroud “NBA” in a dour pall, while Blunt’s use of the most banal entries in the hip-hop lexicon (“all about the Benjamins” and “never broke again”) makes the song sound curiously daft. It’s as if Diddy hopped on an instrumental from Sebadoh’s Weed Forestin’.

Blunt might be taking shots at rap culture, with song titles alluding to the likes of YoungBoy Never Broke Again and Fetty Wap. But the chiming guitars and striding viola of “Petty Wap” are so unabashedly pretty that it’s hard not to hear it as a compliment. If only it lasted longer than 82 seconds.... On the other hand, the low-key Rhodes melody and smooth saxophone lines of “Ciao 2001,” which exist just long enough for Blunt to ask, “Are you sure that you wanna re-up,” make a minute feel like an eternity.

No matter Blunt’s number of albums, project names, or YouTube dumps, his hit-to-miss ratio hovers steadily around half-and-half. It’s as if he intentionally deflates expectations to keep away the casually curious. How else do you explain something as enthralling as Soul on Fire’s “A/X,” a nimble recasting of Gang of Four’s love song-as-chemical warfare “Anthrax,” amid such instantly forgettable surroundings? Despite the beguiling mix of Spanish guitar and breathless vocals that newcomer Poison Anna adds to “Beefa,” Blunt dashes the mood by stringing together lazy lines about Ibiza, Beamers, leaners, sneakers, and keepers. You don’t have to be a famous rapper or even fully awake to cook up a less-corny rhyme scheme. But, as always with Blunt, there is at least the suggestion of something wonderful.

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