Copeland, Because I’m Worth It

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[self-released]

Life after Hype Williams was never in doubt for Inga Copeland. Given her concealed persona, it would be foolish to make a guess at her age. But creatively speaking at least, a scan of the duo’s recorded output reveals that she’s been ascending towards a peak for some time now. The kinky idiosyncrasies that sparked divisive opinions of their early work diminished throughout their career. As their production chops flourished, descriptors like “difficult” and “unlistenable” gave way to “pretty” and “dreamlike.” And while you would have to be on drugs to describe Hype Williams as a pop act, by the time they reached 2012’s Black Is Beautiful they had realized a sound that at least mimicked some of the genre’s more austere tendencies.

In typically cryptic fashion, last summer’s announcement of their split hinted at future solo endeavors for both members. Dean Blunt has since delivered The Redeemer, an astutely haunting, orchestral masterstroke. It further bridged that normative trajectory, but felt entirely his own — cluing listeners in on his contributions to the Hype Williams formula in its wake. Now Copeland seems poised to peel the curtain all the way back. Her debut LP, Because I’m Worth It, is frequently beautiful, rarely frustrating, and entirely fascinating, further shedding light on their shrouded legacy while forging forward with a voice of her own.

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Despite owning a sound that would suggest otherwise, Hype Williams always held ties to dance circles. They had beats, sure, but they were worm food, boxed and buried six feet below the surface. Darren Cunningham and James Ferraro were noted contemporaries, though only because of their comparably amoebic tendencies. And Hyperdub scooped them up for a handful of releases, relegating them as outlier weirdos amongst a roster that wasn’t very sane to begin with. But it all made sense when viewed through a perpetual squint. And if The Redeemer, in all its histrionic glory, revealed Blunt as the artistic wonder of the group, responsible for their perplexing imagery and emotive highs, then Because I’m Worth It suggests Copeland to be the leg rooted in the club, not necessarily on the floor but at least glaring from the sidelines.

For the first time in her recording career, there’s an air of the contemporary hanging over her work. This is largely thanks to the dispersal of that toxic gaze. The product still feels treated, filtered through a brooding huff, but many of the LP’s eight selections burst with some contemporary rhythm. Copeland counts Scratcha DVA and Martyn as recent collaborators and their influence is prevalent throughout, most notably the former’s offhand propulsion and the latter’s considered mania. “Insult 2 injury” rides a glistening grime synth headfirst into a cluttered drum pattern. Despite a curtailed run-time, “Serious” musters a substantial sense of dread, flickering itself into oblivion while withholding any real payoff. “L’Oreal” stamps a weighty bass undertone with a cattle prod jolt. These are the more straightforward cuts. It may not sound like it — and in reality they’re about as straightforward as a failed sobriety test — but they at least bear some resemblance to some charted trends.

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Fans of weird need not fret, however, as Because I’m Worth It is still littered with a number of brow-raising instances. The intro features some severely distressing white noise, building for three nauseous minutes before cutting into silence. In the month or so I’ve had the record, it’s managed to leave my ears ringing every time I’ve played it back, without fail. And unsurprisingly, it’s Copeland’s somnambulistic croon that affords both the album’s highs and its most unsettling moments. Hearkening back to the pop-leaning tendencies is “advice 2 young girls,” a collaboration with the aforementioned Cunningham. Here, they flip Beyonce’s “girls run the world” battle cry into something militant and subliminal, weaving her message through a broken organ grind. Further still, the remaining two vocal showcases, “Fit 1” and “Inga,” muddle her lyrics among echos, rendering her voice a mere tool in constructing her lounge-lit quagmire. She’s demonstrated her chops in the past — most nobly on last year’s “So Far So Clean” — but her decision to deploy her signature weapon in calculated spurts is a novel one that ultimately pays off.

A misstep, however, comes in the album’s curtness. Pacing initially feels like a strong suit, with the instrumental numbers propping up the vocal cuts. And shorter track lengths is something she’s stuck to in the past with great success. But barely exceeding a half-hour run-time — not to mention the lack of a truly impactful track — hinders the LP’s potential to feel like the walloping debut it potentially could have. As it stands, though, Because I’m Worth It is a luminously brusque listen, one that invites repeat listens despite its downtrodden tone. And perhaps most critically, its evidence that her recent divorce hasn’t hindered her ascent.

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