When talking about a new band, two common questions are: (1) Who are they?, and (2) What do they sound like? Many acts arrive with ready answers to these questions. “We are Band X and we like/listen to/play this, that and the other.” Plenty of artists resist definite answers, but often have those questions answered on their behalf by the press or listeners. So what do you do then when you encounter a band that cannot have either question answered completely? Your reaction probably says more about you than the subject in question.
Hype Williams is for the curious. The group is surrounded by a Rumsfeldian matrix of unknown knowns. They are supposedly a duo: D. Blunt or Roy Blunt or Roy Nnawuchi may come from the UK; and Inga Copeland or Karen Glass may be from Estonia. Or Russia. There is an elaborate story involving motivational speakers. The known knowns are not much more revealing. Hype WIlliams is based in Berlin these days. They released a couple full-lengths in 2010, Find Out What Happens When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Gettin Reel and an untitled record, for two different labels. And they’re rolling into 2011 with another album One Nation, which is being released through another label. All this doesn’t tell you anything about the group beyond its work schedule and the possibility of a fun game of telephone.
At this point if you’re frustrated then the music of One Nation will not sway you. The album is remarkably indefinable. Notes and tones gradually slide chromatically like melting butter slithering off an uneven table (“Dragon Stout”). Atonal melodies wander aimlessly against each other like blindfolded people carefully navigating a room (“William, Shotgun Sprayer”). Sounds are projected into a dub canyon and allowed to bounce about infinitely (“Mitsubishi”). Voices occasionally pop up, mostly in the form of sampled monologues [“Untitled,” “Untitled (And Your Batty’s So Round)”]. Little here resembles traditional forms of instrumental or electronic pop. Yet the qualities of sound are familiar. A thick layer of tape hiss and fat synths across the entire album will surely induce jargon-savvy listeners to point the finger at hypnagogic pop, but really functions as a pleasant coating that feels smooth to the touch. Song titles like “Ital’ and “Jah” suggest a Rasta framework, but the songs share mostly aesthetic similarities with dub culture. And while the beats occasionally bristle (“Warlord,” “Unfaithful”), they are more likely to dissolve into a bean bag (“Break4love”) or the backseat of a topless cruiser (“Your Girl Smells Chung When She Wears Dior”). One Nation is like a fat, greasy pig. If you attempt to capture it with a tight embrace, it slips out quickly. If you are patient and pay attention, it comes to you effortlessly.
One Nation may not demand repeated spins, but its lack of form and formality is refreshing. The pre-screening process has become ingrained in how we socialize, as well as our listening habits. So when answers are not forthcoming or are slow to extract, we often become guarded. The silliness of this ritual is that answers don’t equal guaranteed returns. What’s sillier is that a guarantee shouldn’t be necessary all the time.