Dan Black - ((un))
Posted by Kuang on Fri, 17 Jul 2009.
Dan Black’s solo album ((Un)) is a second bite at the cherry for the former ‘The Servant’ frontman, and ditches the indie-pop sensibilities and jangly guitars to take a more minimalist and electronic direction. The same trademark falsetto vocals are there, but are now underpinned by a range of stripped down beats and stabby synths. Black is on record as saying he prefers to be in control of his musical output instead of relying on other people, and so has taken on the roles of writer, performer and producer this time around.
What you get as a result is a tight collection of wordy electro-pop, swinging between the dancefloor and the chill-out lounge. There are a lot of diverse musical influences that float to the top, from p-funk, via new wave to retro hip-hop, and there’s always something different happening on each track. Symphonies and Let Go are very mellow, trippy affairs whilst Pump My Pumps has the makings of a thumping dancefloor anthem despite borrowing off a Cliff Richards riff for no apparent reason...
Then there are a few tracks that somehow fail to move you – Cocoon should be a delicate, reflective moment of calm, but sounds a bit confused with a horrendously loud beat that repeatedly stomps all over the vocals. Cigarette Pack starts off with hints of bigger things, but then goes nowhere – for a four minute pop song there’s just nothing that sticks.
There are some decent little hooks spread across the 12 tracks, but it all too often feels as if they’re just waiting for something else to fall into place. There’s an overpowering sense of unfilled space which is not necessarily part and parcel of minimalism – it’s as if the arrangements are begging for the finishing touches that never come. The production seems quite unbalanced and skewed towards the rhythm section too, which frequently masks the vocals. I can’t help wondering if Black’s insistence on being the controlling force behind the album might have caused the finished product to suffer for lack of any external, objective production.
Overall it’s a pleasant diversion from formulaic pop, and has a bit of much needed soul that many current electro revisionists lack. There are times when it seems like the potential hasn’t been developed enough and the real songs are struggling to break out of their minimalist straightjackets, but better to have the promise of greatness than not at all. I think Black’s next step should be to relax his grip on the strings and let a few objective voices pitch in –the album can sometimes sound a bit flat, but I guarantee that the remixes would be killers.