Dan Black

Un

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Dan Black was one of the main proponents of the “wonky pop” scene in late 2000s, that is, unabashedly “pop” but with some brains and musical invention, and not just slavish re-creations of current musical trends designed to get your songs in the charts. His early singles (which are collected here on his debut album) were strutting, ultra-hooky songs that mixed up hip-hop, rock, funk, and pop into a very appealing sound fronted by Black’s smooth and insistent vocals. “Yours” and “Alone” are both very inventive tracks and easy-to-digest songs that fans of radio pop could get into, "Symphonies," which is his high point as an artist so far, slows things down and wraps Black’s voice in a beautiful string sample, and shows he can deliver some real emotion. In other words, Black’s singles are a perfect manifestation of wonky pop. ((Un)) works almost as well. The singles are the best tracks but there is plenty of competition. The rocking, dancefloor filler "Pump My Pumps," the stuttering, fake hip-hop jam "I Love Life," and the fun and huge-sounding "U + Me =" all come very close to dethroning the previously released singles for top honors. Black’s arrangements are always fresh-sounding, never too glossy, and filled with surprising little touches that let you know you are in the hands of a whiz kid, not just a pop singer. The only thing that lets down the side just a bit are the handful of too-earnest, Coldplay-lite ballads like "Let Go" and "Cigarette Pack," that weigh the album down near the end. Their heavy-handedness is all the more disappointing thanks to songs like "Cocoon" or "Ecstasy," which display a lighter touch and prove that Black can balladize without reaching for the back of the arena. Despite the minor stumbles, ((Un)) is a very impressive first record that shows tons of promise. If Black can keep the right amount of wonky in his pop, he could do something truly wonderful (like an album full of songs as good as "Symphonies.")

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