Achieving the kind of purposeful anonymity previously reserved for underground misfits like Jandek, Dean Blunt is steadily ascending the ranks of the lo-fi ladder. The Narcissist II, Blunt’s early ’12 online mixtape, has been re-mastered and remixed for a limited vinyl run and is similarly sheathed in the same enigmatic dreariness and experimental whimsy as any of his other baffling musical identities.
The results, luckily, are appallingly beautiful, disturbing, sentimental and ramshackle, like the streetside tones of a keyboard busker. Blunt’s even, baritone warble presents itself like an apathetic bystander on tunes like the funeral dirge “Caught Feelings,” with Blunt crooning “How was I to know that you weren’t really feelin’ me?” over a drone-y soul ballad mash-up. The pace is quickened on the likewise phonograph-and-karaoke machine vibe of “Galice,” the album’s first really engaging track that’s not a navel-gazer. “Galice” posits a repetitive loop of Motown-style pop and lounge, with a melodic refrain of “I know what she know/So let’s not start a war/It’s not enough.” During the song’s downward spiral, an audio snippet of a couple in a dangerous argument takes precedence atop an ominous (later to be found as eerily omnipresent) horror-film key line. The dichotomy of aggressively sexual lyricism interwoven with the soundtrack to a violent breakup only perpetuates the album’s spooky voodoo.
Blunt’s attention to fluidity from track to track plays an integral role in ascribing a method to what you wouldn’t be mistaken in calling his madness. The Narcissist II buries itself underneath chamber echoes and repetition, shape-shifting the album’s hip hop-dub-pop hybrid into splintering factions that dance around at once on the same quaint drug. Songs like “Direct Line 2”—the sequel to the album’s mystifying trance-squall opener—is every bit the sex-letter to a stranger that every other track is, with Blunt cooing piecemeal pickup lines like “It’s been too long, girl/Can I caress this, girl?”
The centerpiece is the self-reflexive “The Narcissist,” featuring Blunt’s Hype Williams cohort Inga Copeland on vocals. Copeland’s chameleonic vocal approach is here nearly fatally atonal, yet seductive enough to lure you into the song’s cyclical stoner-soul malaise. It isn’t until the album’s closing track, “Coroner,” that Blunt’s bizarre rhyming chops are showcased, be they mired still in that free-associative, sex-obsessed motif The Narcissist II is soaked in. Sample line: “I said I’ve got things to do/and one of them’s waxin’ you/take off your frown/that sweet apple bottom gonna get candied and go on the merry go-round.”
The more charming pockets found within The Narcissist II’s peculiar symmetry are worth waiting for, so long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief long enough to ingest the entire record. Otherwise, you might be missing the point.