I have been trying to write this review for many weeks now, and I still don’t think I am ready to put my thoughts down in a coherent manner, so bear with me. Firstly, this album is confounding. It is also amazing. This review isn’t going to get into the esoteric details of lyric references, or other things I have read while trying to get my head around this album. Also, DJ Escrow is a real human. Google it.
So, BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow is a record full of contradictions. It is confronting and beautiful all at once. I admit I am late to the Dean Blunt party, but have been converted and am now slowly filling my brain with the other equally confounding releases of this peculiar artist. My very first exposure to Blunt, and his Babyfather act, was at Unsound in Adelaide a little while ago. Babyfather was a late addition to the bill, and was the undoubted highlight of the entire event. I have been trying to grapple with the notion that if I hadn’t have been fortunate enough to have experienced Babyfather in a mind and eardrum blowing live spectacle, that I might not have been so responsive to the BBF LP. I am not sure if this is true, and it is scientifically unprovable, but I deeply suspect that after witnessing Blunt perform the BBF material live made me want to understand the work and therefore led me down the deep cavern of contemplation of his work. Upon returning home from Unsound I grabbed the Meditation single, which contains the track and an instrumental version. I listened to it dozens of times. The lyrics so simple and stark, minimal and repetitive, much like the music, which half way through dissolves from its lilting hip hop minimalism into a hole of sonic reductionism. The track devolves from clarity to murkiness, and as such is the perfect precursor the the BBF LP as a whole. Finally a preview of the BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow arrived in my inbox and I eagerly jumped into it, having half an idea of what to expect, but ready for anything.
Traversing this album is akin to travelling without a map. You start somewhere and end up in a strange and unfamiliar place, happily disoriented. The album begins in the same way the BBF live show did, with an extended loop stating “This makes me proud to be British” over a peaceful piano interlude. In the live setting, as well as on the LP, this introduction sets up the album as something outside of a regular listening experience. As one sits through the seemingly never ending repetition, you begin to question your own expectations of what music is, what role does it play in the broader cultural experience, am I going insane, how long is this going to go for, etc. Admittedly on the LP the effect of this repetition is reduced, as we all have the power to see how long the track will run for, and to skip if forward if desired, whereas in the live environment, I wondered if this was going to be the entire performance. Blunt strutting around the stage shrouded in an impenetrable fog to the unending loop. In both cases it does orient the listener to the Babyfather experience. Abandon all hope. Expect the unexpected. I am not going to sit here and dissect the album sonically, others have already done that, so go Google it. Suffice to say this LP contains a selection of well produced trip-hop inspired songs, that are heavy on the bassline, which is what drew me the the material in a live setting. In the old school mixtape-style format, we are taken on our journey by our host, the enigmatic DJ Escrow, who chats over the interludes, and comes and goes without any fuss. He drops a few rhymes, but mostly toasts in a very dancehall inspired UK manner. Yeah, go ahead and read those other reviews to see exactly what Escrow is like. Writing this review is akin to writing a film review. Have you heard the album, or are you reading this to see if you want to hear it? Maybe I should include spoiler alerts. The narrative of the LP is strong, with the tone established by Escrow’s toasts, and reinforced by Blunt’s minimal but effective lyrics.
Repetition is a key aspect of this album. Two of the tracks, ‘Shook’ and ‘Motivation’, contain almost the same lyrics, shifting the focus of the listener in the diversions from the base lyrics. The intention of this may be to force us to see the narrative from multiple perspectives. The whole record constantly swings around perspectives, but maintains its integrity due to its clarity of design. The narrative grows and shifts across the 20+ tracks. Many of the tracks are very short, coming and going in a minute or less, blending into the next track, constantly blurring the format, very much like a mixtape. Lyrically this is a very sentimental album. It is a very self-reflective portrait of life in inner London. The concept is framed around the “babyfather”, and early on Escrow dismisses his babymother as getting too much for him. We shift from themes of unity, individuality, integrity, self-reliance, regret and the ever present motif of life on the streets. This portrait, while unquestionably a constructed narrative, never feels false or forced. The chats from Escrow are most likely improvised around the written lyrics by Blunt, and to me are the heart of the record. Blunt’s delivery is clean and stark, and I was initially reminded of the avant-rapper Sensational, who Babyfather have recently played a show with. This makes sense to me, as, like Sensational, Blunt isn’t afraid to take the audience into unexpected, or even unwanted places. Probably the most confronting aspect of the BBF LP, as well as the live show, is the unapologetic transition into sustained bursts of harsh noise. Over the first example, Escrow dismisses it as being “too much of a war ting”, perhaps reflecting the clash aspect of the underground dub circuit, but despite this dismissal, the noise continues, eventually breaking into probably the most uplifting sounding song on the LP. This is obviously a challenge. A challenge to us as listeners, a challenge to the expectations of genre and style. This is by no means the first time such an approach as been explored, but it is highly effective.
The lack of information about Babyfather as a project undoubtedly invites speculation, but it is Blunt’s intention to allow the work to stand on it’s own. Live the works were a transcendent experience, and that effect is barely lost in the recorded format. I would offer the suggestion to not judge this album after the first listen. This is a deeply affecting record, it is adventurous and bold, and takes some time to sink in. I still don’t think I am ready to write this review, because BBF continues to surprise and expose new elements to me on each listen. This is without a doubt the standout release of 2016 so far, and it will take something absolutely remarkable to shift that for me. So get this album. Let it sit with you for some time. Go back to it, it will reward you, just don’t ignore it.