London’s Dan Black first got attention with "HYPNTZ", his mash-up of Notorious B.I.G.’s "Hypnotize" & Rihanna’s "Umbrella", and his debut full-length, Un, is sort of a mash-up of its own, taking various elements, adding synths, and putting them in the blender. The material varies widely in quality, depending on the non-keyboard ingredients on a given track, but the synths are strong, and there are some moments of definite brilliance.
One of those moments is opener/single "Symphonies", a synthetic orchestral uplift. Un is best when Black expands, like the literal ‘wonder’ to "Wonder", giving depth and power to his sound. But even exceeding that is the following "Cigarette Pack", whose wrenching synth-emotion is married to a pitch-perfect beat, giving it hook as well as beauty. The reverb-washed chorus lifts above the somewhat nerdy verse to "U + Me =". Of course, sometimes that synth is a little run-of-the-mill, such as with "Ecstasy", "Life Slash Dreams" or "I Love Life", but still decent.
Black does also make some mistakes on Un. Pressure actually takes away from the uplift of "Alone", and relaxing on the sadder "Cocoon" and "Let Go" isn’t as fine as expanding. Overdone reverb tech mars "Pump My Pumps"s truly pressing beat, creating a memorable track that unfortunately feels a little too ProTools-y (like "Get On Your Boots", the weakest track on U2’s weak No Line On the Horizon – QRO review). And the synth-hip-hop of the preceding "Yours" is catchy, but in an annoying way, and not at all tough, like it seems to be intended.
If Un is a bit of an all-over-the-place compilation of Dan Black’s work, the artist can be forgiven, as it’s his debut. There are right ways and wrong ways on the record, but the right ways are very right.
MP3 Stream: "Cigarette Pack"