A large part of the image that Hype Williams have cultivated – and that is the right word; e-leafing through their interviews and scanning their YouTube channel make it clear their public persona is as meticulously controlled as Lady Gaga or Simon Cowell – is based on their anonymity. Moreover, the duo appear to go about their business this way because it amuses them, rather than because they have day jobs or other projects which would conflict with Hype Williams somehow. As far as a layperson such as myself can work out, the male half of the band is called Roy and was in an early incarnation of London indie yelpers Graffiti Island; the female might be called Karen and might not have made any other music of note. Many would suggest that this essentially amounts to facelessness anyway – for Hype Williams, this may well be the point.
One Nation, like Hype Williams’ previous releases over the last 18 months or so, is very much a product of its time. That is to say, it references and borrows from the past at will, in lieu of having the vision to create something genuinely innovative. Which isn’t nearly as disparaging as it might sound: it also applies to a considerable proportion of the history of twentieth century music, and the pair sluice their inspirations through filters of dreamstate and gauziness and prickly stoned intensity in ways that are often very appealing. However, their plunderous aesthetic is perfectly pitched to angry up the blood of people who constantly decry ‘irony’ in culture and see it everywhere, in the appearance and tastes of complete strangers. (Aside: if you’re ever compelled to post on the internet about an ‘ironic moustache’, can I suggest you stop and think about what would constitute a sincere moustache?) When Hype Williams won’t let us see their faces, when their voices appear not once on One Nation’s 43 minutes, when three of its songtitles are stolen verbatim from a Wiley mixtape, when they precede its release with a twelve-inch limited to fifty copies… you kind of have to enjoy being fucked with to appreciate these guys.
Their music, though, well if you so choose you can be a passive consumer and pay no attention to whom might have made it. It has a similar vibe of lysergic remembrance – the retroactive in pursuit of the psychoactive – to other prominent synthesizer luggers of the last few years. Hippos In Tanks, the young American label who released this LP, have already established a track record for oozy, clouded electronics with, among others, two releases by Daniel Lopatin’s Games (who have had to rename themselves Ford & Lopatin after a threatened lawsuit; you suspect a similar fate will befall Hype Williams eventually). They’re relevant entities to throw into the mixer, as are Lopatin’s other project Oneohtrix Point Never; Californian trash culture guzzlers the Skaters and their multiple aliases; and Ariel Pink, who is in a sense doing to Seventies coke-rock and beardo-folk what HW are to classic r’n’b and Chicago house. I’m also reminded, in a more abstract way, of a lot of the stuff that resulted from indie and drone-rock dudes starting to listen to dance music in the late Nineties – Third Eye Foundation, Cex, Flowchart, a bunch of weirdness 555 Records put out – although I doubt HW are checking for something so lost to fashion’s vagaries.
‘Untitled’, on which a large sample of a gravel-voiced man waxing philosophical about death rides atop a one-chord synth riff, flags up Boards Of Canada as an undersung precedent to the duo’s stylings. While Boards can fair tussle the emotions on their day, though, this sample is about as deep as One Nation gets. ‘Untitled (And Your Batty’s So Round)’, the final track, has another American male reading a poem about a peregrine falcon over unsteady hum and chronically budget Casio beats. It works well, in a perverse way, but hardly leads you to think that Hype Williams are truly invested in the plight of the creature. A slice of Cassie’s vocal on ‘Addiction’, a single by her svengali-of-sorts Ryan Leslie, is looped for the brief, intriguing ‘Your Girl Smells Chung When She Wears Dior’ – as close as we come to a recognisable sample here.
Even briefer is ‘Unfaithful’, relatively straight-bat house jacking that thuds to a halt after barely 90 seconds: another four minutes or so would have been most welcome, but this might be chalked up to another knowing dick move by the pair. It’s a tonic after the thick, muggy feel that defines a good chunk of the record, which is fun to get lost in but can be reminiscent of sitting in traffic on a hot day. ‘MITSUBISHI’ (HW’s capitals), One Nation’s longest cut at almost eight minutes, features nothing that could invite accusations of gimmickry or arch detachment, and is a strong contender for album highlight. It marries muted, lo-fi drum machine to virginal crystal melody, and could be by any of several British acts who made IDM about twenty years back before some douchebag decided to call it ‘IDM’: B12, Autechre and especially The Black Dog.
A springboard, perhaps, for thinking about how The Black Dog encapsulated the era they emerged into, and Hype Williams typify theirs. Both indulge in as much obfuscation as possible, the better to put the emphasis on their music, which takes classic club sounds and turns them into something more likely to be listened to at home. TBD used the nascent world wide web to talk about politics and philosophy to fans on the other side of the world; HW (probably) use it to find .rar files of grime instrumentals and Tumblrs filled with old camcorder videos of lizards. TBD were excessively serious fellows who had more humour than many credited them for; HW are a brace of obnoxious, always-switched-on jokers whose music has actual depth and beauty, as much as their M.O. might try to disguise it. If you had to single out something as being symbolic of 2011, you could do a lot worse than this album.
7Noel Gardner's Score