The duo formerly known as Hype Williams has long been dominated by a theatrical streak. Focusing on their respective solo work, Inga Copeland's efforts have been fairly straightforward, while theatricality remains Dean Blunt's focus. The Redeemer, his latest LP, builds on last year's The Narcissist II, at least in terms of its emphasis on relationships (particularly abusive ones), its elliptical sense of narrative, and the psychedelic balladry of the music itself.
At the same time, however, The Redeemer immediately seems to signal a change of mind. The boisterous drums and swelling strings that mark the record's first few tracks create a crescendo which is both hopeful and elegiac. The highlights are subtle: Tranquil guitar licks appear on "The Pedigree," and a fluid French horn solo pairs with new collaborator Joanne Robertson's trembling entrance on "Demon." Such optimistic orchestration belies a darker underbelly, though, as Blunt's narration is murmured much in the same way as on The Narcissist II. His is the introspection of a man who has spent too much time with his own thoughts; even Robertson seems to be singing about being beaten.
These opening moments give the impression that The Redeemer will blossom into a grand—and more sensical—storyline similar to what Blunt accomplished on its predecessor. Instead, it wanders more like a Hype Williams album would, and leaves that opening promise to dangle unfulfilled. Even so, it perpetuates an expectation every few tracks, as it's peppered with interludes which suggest a cohesive narrative is indeed at work. "V" and "Dread" offer answering machine messages from distraught women, while the ramshackle "Need 2 Let U Go" finds Blunt intoning, "I know what I did is wrong." The overall effect is like listening to the soundtrack of a lost film. More highlights come in the title track's warped soul, the resigned refrain of "you bring out the best in me" on "Papi," and the acoustic pop of "Imperial Gold," which recalls a low-key Fleetwood Mac or Swedish duo jj. These moments seem to come at random, though, and are few and far between. "Par," the four-second closing track, is an automated voicemail signoff. It makes some sense as an outro, as it more or less confirms the LP as a series of disparate messages.
Coming on the heels of Blunt's opus, The Redeemer feels maddeningly incomplete and meandering. This is surely not an unexpected turn for Hype Williams fans, who are undoubtedly accustomed to wild twists by now. And, as per usual, it's never quite clear who exactly is playing this music, or to what extent samples are being used. Perhaps because of the record's clean fidelity, this is less mysterious than it has been in the past, but maybe it just feels less important at this point. In any case, The Redeemer remains as beguiling as any of Blunt's past work.