Dean Blunt — The Redeemer Review
I’ve been obsessed with this artist for years, and I still don’t even know how to begin talking about this album. On the surface it seems like a bizarre, sample heavy quasi-r&b album with some bizarre, awkward country influenced vocals, but on closer inspection the album reveals that it works on so many more levels than what’s immediately apparent. The lush, emotional, expressive string intro immediately gives way to sterile, synthetic stock string section samples, and recognizing this juxtaposition is key to seeing through the outsider pop fake out veneer that encompasses the album and hints towards the darker aspects of the album boiling just under the surface.
Lyrically, the album suggests that the protagonist, initially introduced as a simple heartbroken, sentimental character is more dangerous than he presents himself as, an idea reinforced by the multiple voicemail interludes that imply he may be exhibiting stalker-like behaviors, enough to the point where the object of his desire that most of the songs seem to be about has to ask him to leave her alone. By the midpoint of the album, it’s clear that something is very off, the setting the first act of the album established is unraveling. Songs become more and more abstract, relying heavily on looped samples of harps, choirs, oceans, all while Blunt warbles and bemoans his failed relationship, simultaneously expressing vulnerability and reinforcing destructive thought patterns and behaviors that invariably led to the dissolution of the relationship that serves as the focal point for the album.
At this juncture, I think it’s important to mention the samples Blunt uses, and how he uses them. Blunt pulls samples from sources like Kate Bush, Pink Floyd, Puff Daddy, K-Ci & Jojo, and generally inserts them relatively dryly into his own songs, effectively constructing a collage of pop detritus that exceeds the sum of its parts. The presentation of these samples completely warps their emotional resonance, the most clear example being the solo piano ballad Brutal, constructed entirely based on an interpolation of the first few seconds of The Roof by Mariah Carey, turning a few seconds of throwaway piano chords into a shockingly moving and expressive piano improvisation.
One last thing I would feel amiss to not mention is the track Imperial Gold, a beautiful acoustic guitar ballad that comes from far out of left field and stays floating in a ephemeral space outside the aesthetic of the rest of the album until at the last minute, when Blunt’s vocals are layered over Joanne Robertson’s and bring the track back down to the atmosphere of paranoia, subtle anger, and danger that the rest of the album so carefully cultivated.
Never in my life have I listened to an album where an artist has been brave enough to release an album that’s as much of a fake out as this, especially one that successfully leans into the charade as much as this does. Though the presentation seems about as earnest as it could be, and on just the most surface level the album works as an off-kilter r&b album, the more sinister undertones are unmistakably present the entire way through. If it wasn’t already apparent, Blunt is by far one of my favorite living artists, and it all started with the perplexing, fascinating tour de force of misdirection and emotional manipulation that is The Redeemer. I hope at least someone out there sees this essay and decides to give it a shot just by virtue of the fact I was willing to ramble about it for so long.
ADDENDUM: I realized after the fact that all I’ve done so far is describe how dark and strange the album is, but not what makes those aspects so interesting. Ultimately, I think The Redeemer, and by extension a lot of Blunt’s work proceeding and following this album, functions as a critique of masculinity by way of portraying things such as obsession, manipulation, and dominance by emphasizing how these traits are commonly depicted as love in pop music.
Specifically with The Redeemer, Blunt also wrestles with the concept of forgiveness and redemption, purposefully evoking Christian aesthetics and symbols with track titles such as “Walls of Jericho” and “Seven Seals of Affirmation”. In an interview, Blunt once stated that “redemption is the narcissist’s last stand”, eluding to an earlier project, The Narcissist II, which depicts the emotional fallout surrounding an intense and graphic domestic dispute. Going off this, The Redeemer can be seen as a thematic continuation of a narrative established by The Narcissist II.
It would also feel disingenuous to not mention that some interviews surrounding the release of the album suggest that the feelings of heartbreak evoked by the album were genuine on the part of Blunt himself, an aspect that I think adds a lot of emotional weight and authenticity to the project, while still functioning as an analysis of the destructive ways those genuine emotions can manifest as toxic behaviors in men.