Dean Blunt, formerly of high-concept, low stakes duo Hype Williams (with Inga Copeland), has established a reputation as a lackadaisical provocateur. Screwing around with interviewers, releasing records full of weeded riffs on already weeded hip-hop styles, and well, calling his project Hype Williams will do that to you. More often than not though, Blunt's indirect approach to sincerity occupies a singular and sometimes transcendent niche: The sad-sack Miami Vice soundtrack if it were scored by Harmonia of Hype's 2010 album, Find Out What Happens When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Gettin' Reel remains a highlight of 2010s murkwave; the entirety of Blunt's 2013 solo album, The Redeemer, adds up to a kind of Microphones' The Glow Pt. 2 for Timbs-rocking hipster urbanites.
In particular, consider the opening track of The Redeemer, "I Run New York," which wholesale jacks the strings intro from the "studio edition" of K-Ci & JoJo's "All My Life" (easily one of the most gorgeous and touching 36 seconds ever recorded in the history of music). Yeah sure, one one level Blunt just stuck part of a K-Ci & JoJo song at the start of his album. But it's a kind of insider R&B nerd's snippet of beautiful music that needed to be highlighted not artfully flipped, and it sets the emotionally off the rails tone of The Redeemer expertly. A thoroughly postmodern production "choice." All of this is to suggest that if you feel like taking the time to "get" Blunt's work, and not dismiss him as some kind of reigning troll of half-assery (which wouldn't be entirely incorrect), then the heady and emotional rewards are great.
Which finally brings us to Blunt's "Mersh," the first taste of his upcoming album Black Metal, ("Mersh" sounds like a "Ha"-inspired Vogue remix of The Beastie Boys' "Girls" with some somber rapping) to be released on big deal label Rough Trade, and afforded a deceptive lark of a visual: Blunt on a couch, in a red T-shirt and red Polo hat (insert "normcore" joke here), with a white girl in shades sporting a sweatshirt that says "MIAMI," sharing a joint, and occasionally rapping, while a red light strobes. That's it, for three minutes. And save for maybe Nicki Minaj's ambitious male-gaze music video thesis "Lookin' Ass Nigga," it's the best video to arrive in this year, so far.
"Mersh" immediately recalls the Replacements' 1985 video for "Bastards Of Young," which featured a static shot of a dude smoking as a speaker in front of him played the Mats' single. But there was catharsis in the final moments of "Bastards" when the dude got up and kicked the speakers in. There was something to "get." Here, a jumpcut does remove Blunt from the couch, leaving only the girl nodding her head in the final moments of the video, but that doesn't have the same cathartic power as "Bastards" at all; Blunt dissapearing is more like a sloppy, hilarious "Note: Poochie died on his way back to his home planet" move.
The message of that Replacements video though is shared by Blunt. For the Replacements, a group of Minneapolis beer punks signed to the major label Sire Records (their previous record Let It Be, for indie Twin/Tone contained mocking song called "Seen Your Video" on it), it was important for them to tell fans that very little was going to change. Making an anti-video was a vote of confidence that they weren't going to sell out. And perhaps Blunt here, who left Hippos In Tanks and will be putting Black Metal out on the higher profile Rough Trade, is communicating a similar "not selling out, even a little" message to the Hype Williams heads out there.
Even without all the context though, "Mersh" is a great video. The atmosphere of "Mersh" is palpable. This kind of there-but-not-there druggy melancholy dominates the attitude of hip-hop right now, found in everything Drake does (especially the videos for "Over" and "Marvin's Room") and spilling out into other places like the video for French Montana's "Sanctuary" and "Mersh" captures it better by not getting ambitious. What most rappers and video directors are spending thousands of bucks to characterize has been captured by Blunt in "Mersh," using only a girl, some weed, a bummy couch, a strobe light, and a static camera.