Seldom has an album twisted so thrillingly through so many styles, nor over-flowed with so much melody and feeling. Little wonder that Black is being tipped by the worldâ€™s critics and bloggers as one of 2010â€™s most promising break through artists. If his name already rings a bell, thatâ€™s perhaps because you’ve heard everyone from Zane Lowe to Perez Hilton raving about HYPNTZ, the Notorious BIG cover which first brought Black to the worldâ€™s attention when unsigned in 2008.
During this time, Black was mainly hunched over his laptop writing, tinkering, writing, recording and then writing some more. â€œI knew that unless I had great songs, it was all a bit pointless,â€ he says. â€œI think I wrote 70 songs in that time.â€ By his own admission, many of them were rubbish. But it quickly became clear that quite a few werenâ€™t. Tracks like the shimmering, lysergic lullaby Life Slash Dreams, the wistful, New Order-esque WonderU + Me = began to spill out of him; sonically contrasting, but all driven by Blackâ€™s obvious knack for a catchy melody and a sharp, meaningful lyric. and the strident, big beat love song
In that spirit, he began to experiment with home-made mash-ups. â€œIâ€™d try something like taking the drums from [Nelly Furtadoâ€™s] Maneater and mixing them with a Daft Punk hook before singing [The Smithsâ€™] These Things Take Time over the top, just to see if they would/could work together. The initial idea was that these were private experiments that would teach me lessons that I could feed into my original songs. But some of those experiments turned out to have a weird power in and of themselves.â€
The best example of that was HYPNTZ, which combined the drums from Rihannaâ€™s Umbrella with sweeping strings from the soundtrack of John Carpenterâ€™s Starman film, over which Black sang the rhymes from Notorious B.I.G.â€™s rap classic Hypnotize. â€œIâ€™ve always been massively into B.I.G. So doing that track was very much motivated by love. Heâ€™s articulating a mindset that is pretty ugly, but those lyrics are the result of an extraordinary, strange, amazing mind. My version accidentally turned into a lament; the chorus is me asking how he managed to squander his talent. Obviously he didnâ€™t mean to get killed, but it was such a stupid waste.â€
In the spring of 2008, Black registered a MySpace account and uploaded his striking HYPNTZ track to the player. â€œI really didnâ€™t expect it to get much attention.â€ Claims Black. But it quickly did. Within weeks the track was being raved about in print across the world and getting daytime airplay on Radio One. By the summer, A&M had snapped him up to a major deal.
And now we have ((un)), a pop record inspired as much by Blackâ€™s love for the â€œtranscendent, emotional wonderâ€ of acts like Nick Drake and Sigur Ros as it is fuelled by his passion for the hip hop production of J Dilla, Flying Lotus and Timbaland. Its songs flit seamlessly from throbbing electro to heart-tearing strings, and from plaintive acoustic guitar strums to shuddering hip hop beats.
â€œThe best music makes the stuff start firing in your brain,â€ says Dan Black. â€œThatâ€™s what I always aimed for when I was writing these songs.â€ As the kaleidoscopic future-pop of ((un)) proves, he repeatedly hit his target.
Black is the man whose yearning voice youâ€™ll hear singing ((un))â€™s literate tales of â€œintense states of being, be they extraordinarily happy or extraordinarily hardâ€. But heâ€™s also the abundantly talented chap who wrote, played, programmed and produced every last note of this album. He even handles all of his own artwork and videos (theyâ€™re very good too).
The hard work clearly paid off. ((un)) is a richly-detailed record thatâ€™s as strikingly innovative and contrasting as it is sonically impressive. But, more importantly, it also contains 11 belting examples of quality modern pop songs. From the gorgeous, electo-acoustic yearn of Sweet Thing to the caustic, break-up grooves of Yours, these are songs which all sound well capable of breathing life, heart and soul into daytime radio. Black certainly wonâ€™t be short of options when it comes to picking singles.
â€œMaking this record has deprived me of sleep for more than a year. Iâ€™ve slaved and obsessed over every little part of it, like a painter going over and over his canvas. But it was totally worth it. This is as close as humanly possible to the record Iâ€™ve always wanted to make. Thatâ€™s a pretty exciting feeling.â€