Monday, 27 September 2010

James Blake – The Bells Sketch [Hessle Audio] / CMYK [R&S] / Klavierwerke [R&S]

Where to start with James Blake? He’s a unique talent making seriously twisted synthesized gems that can range from full on dance floor movers to bittersweet introspective soul. One of my blog projects Sonic Router was probably one of the first to interview and get an article on him via Oli’s column at The Quietus right after before he dropped the ESSENTIAL ‘Stop What You’re Doing’ remix and after the sublime first 12” on Untold’s Hemlock label. A release that is still in my bag and a firm favourite sounding as fresh as it did when Distance first dropped the dub on his Rinse show that got everyone’s attention. Ever since he’s been making waves, getting attention outside of the scene and dropping some seriously good 12”s/EPs. A low-key collaboration with Airehead on BRAiNMATH, one for the always on point Hessle Audio, whose quality control is just insanely high and another for legendary old school techno label R&S who seem to be making a return to my radar for the first time in years after dropping a brilliant few records from Pariah and now the guy in question.

For some reason I’ve not got around to writing much on him here so a rundown of his last three EPs is in order because I can’t stop playing them. He shows some range over the three from the stripped back percussive elements on The Bells Sketch EP to the shape shifting R&B sampling gems on CMYK or the mellow eerie bedroom soul on the latest addition Klavierwerke.

The Hessle release has a percy on it in the form of ‘Buzzard & Kestrel’ the rhythms are irresistible, they subtly roll out with a heavy groove before the synths are unleashed in a sudden flourish. It’s the paired back minimal clicks and booms of the percussion that do it for me here. The title track and ‘Give A Man A Rod’ are something else too, both melodramatic synthesizer jams that make people move in strange ways when they’re dropped in the dance. The collision of laid back funk and twisted synths on ‘The Bells Sketch’ is a killer combination, it’s a huge sounding track with so much pent up energy its unreal. ‘Give A Man A Rod’ is a subtler affair, a spaced out funk number that seems like its been beamed in from an intergalactic cocktail bar.

The two R&S EPs come from different angels CMKY plays around with that popular production trick of taking slinky R&B vocals and twisting them into new shapes. But instead of re-treding that post-Burial emotional landscape Blake morphs the likes of Aaliyah and Kelis into freaky funk jams like the anthemic title track with its looping mantra of ‘Look I found her, red coat, look I found her’ over bleepy melodies reminiscent of Peverelist’s ‘Roll With The Punches’ a track which he’s also made a cheeky remix of, but its the twisting euphoric synth rushes that lead into the big bass drops that really shake things up. The rest of the EP is a more low key affair reaching for subtler highs and drops that are designed to tug at your heartstrings rather than make you loose your shit.

It’s the latest EP entitled Klavierwerke that takes that mellow side and really runs with it though. James has hinted at his paired down vocal side for sometime with covers of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ with him accompanied by piano. Here he doesn’t go into full on vocal mode but hints at it by using his voice as another instrument, chopping bits in and out here and there. It’s all pretty chilled out, haunted and melancholy, really introspective. The title track has a late night deep house feel running through it that’s channelled through a hazy bedroom soul. At many points in the EP like on ‘Tell Her Safe’ when the hazy piano and vocal loop intro takes hold you think he could break out into full song at any point, but it’s the restrained mellow vibe that wins over and it’s a killer EP for it. The fragments of song get twisted into these new shapes and contexts that’s way more interesting than straight up song craft, but then that’s a talent he no doubt has somewhere too.

Who knows what else he’s got up his sleeve, go and see him DJ and you’ll see yet another side to him. As well as fresh dubs from the guy taking in all those vibes mentioned above you get some seriously adventurous combinations in the mix. It’ll make you wonder why Coki doesn’t produce for Beyonce for one… Plus if you’ve never experienced his remix of Untold in the flesh on a crowded dance floor you’re missing out big time. Now my catch up session is over you go and do the same.

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