Dan Black rose to prominence by mashing up the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” but like fellow mixtape phenom Wale, he’s sharp enough to know you leave your sharpest stuff for the underground. Listeners expecting groundbreaking stuff from Black’s full-length solo debut, UN, are bound to come away feeling a little hollow and confused — somewhat surprisingly, he’s opted for a largely traditional batch of electropop ditties, led off by the deliberately “HYPNTZ”-ish “Symphonies.”
If you can get past your initial disappointment, though, you’ll discover a pretty savvy set of tunes. It takes solid songwriting to transcend this genre’s oceans of chilly 1’s and 0’s, and Black knows what he’s doing; although UN could have stood some editing — “Pump My Pumps,” in particular, doesn’t need to be here — he has a real knack for sticky melodies, his production walks the fine line between captivatingly busy and merely cluttered, and he knows how to make the most of his thin vocals. Basically, it’s just a fun, consistently enjoyable pop record — and if you’ve listened to enough of those lately, you know consistency is usually too much to expect.
Fun as UN can be, there’s also something a little off-putting about it; I’ve listened to this album probably two dozen times over the last few days, and even though I haven’t gotten tired of it, I still don’t feel like I’m feeling it yet. He’s a gifted songwriter and an inventive producer, but Black also feels like a clinician; even as these songs shake your ass, they keep you at arm’s length, and the cumulative effect of all these repeated listens ends up being sort of like the stomach hangover you feel after eating one too many Oreos. There’s just no sustenance in here — which surely sounds like a strange complaint when you’re talking about an unapologetic dance album, but when it’s one that comes as close to substance as UN, it’s hard not to wish for more.
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