You could be forgiven for thinking that Dan Bull is the Plan B of 2009. British acoustic hip-hop artist, surely they must sound at least similar. You’d be wrong. A colourful character to say the least, a description of the album straight from the Freshnut Records website reads:
Safe tells the story of a young man who attempts suicide at the same time as a global thermonuclear holocaust and awakens in a new, ambiguous nirvana. Along the way, Dan Bull covers such topics as summer sunshine, friendship, love and loss, alienation, politics, death, religion, suicide and insanity – while remaining accessible to the casual listener.
The first noticeable difference – Dan sounds far less angry. When Plan B is angry on a track, you can tell. When Dan is angry on a track, you’re not actually sure. Take fourth track Cut, for example. Deceptively bouncy and upbeat to start with, the first verse is talking about how highly he once thought of an ex, before revealing his true feelings just before the chorus. If you’re only half paying attention to the lyrics, the only thing that really gives it away initially is the slight change in the tone of his voice, but this sudden, albeit brief, injection of anger grabs your attention and makes you listen to what else he has to say.
This is a common theme throughout the album. You get used to hearing his voice, calm and serene, until a turn in subject and tone makes you want to hear what’s suddenly made him so angry. Don’t mistake this for monotony, it isn’t. Towards the end of the album, you start to listen closely to what he is saying, knowing that this change will come sooner or later. Then it might make you want to listen to the album again, just in case you missed anything from the first half when you were only half listening. Then the second half again, because nobody likes stopping an album half way through (and also the fact that After Life is part of the second half, which could be mistaken for a track about religion, but turns out to be a very entertaining track about what literally happens to your body after you die).
Another stand out feature of Safe is the transitions between tracks. Perfect, flawless, unnoticeable. They run in and out of each other so that all 12 songs seem like one collective movement, rather than twelve individual pieces of completely unrelated music.
Safe sounds fresh. It sounds new, airy, light. Hearing an English emcee that is not from London not trying to put on an accent is refreshing. I’m no expert, but I imagine the rap scene in Bromsgrove isn’t really burgeoning. So to hear him speaking in his natural voice, and not adopting an accent that would perhaps make it easier for him to break out into the UK hip-hop scene, it sounds different and that is exactly what music needs right now. It’s very easy to listen to, and to enjoy. Songs like Summer are exactly what the title says, a perfect track for summer, relaxing, having fun. It’s laid back and calm, exactly how summer should be. However, it is not without its flaws. Some of the tracks are quite forgettable, and some sound very similar to one another. But, a perfect album wouldn’t be called perfect without imperfections (what?). Safe is by no means perfect, but Dan seems to have a good idea of the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
Standout tracks: Summer, Cut, Blocked, Misfit, After Life.