James Blake, CMYK EP

[R&S Records]

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At the moment, any release by James Blake feels like an event. And with only three other records and a smattering of remixes in his discography, his next move was bound to be scrutinized and poured over. Like the little surprises tucked in his songs the CMYK EP seemed to come out of nowhere, released by the classic Belgian techno label R&S Records which surged back to life in 2006. Drawing a line from the multi-textured sounds of the Detroit masters who orbited the label during the 90’s and his own eccentric pop sensibility, Blake maintains his focus across the EP’s four varied tracks.

The title track is dense and aimed in the general direction of the dance floor, complete with a catchy, if garbled, hook. As hinted at in his Harmonix edits of Destiny’s Child, Lil’ Wayne and others, the influence of modern R&B is palpable through the din of shuffling beats, sped up hi-hats, and rolling harmonics. Blake distorts and weaves together phrases from Aaliyah’s “Are You Somebody” and Kelis’ “Caught Out There” like Burial interpreting the work of Timbaland and the Neptunes for the 22nd century, leaving the tune hobbling as if it were stung by the vocalists’ accusations. A stunning melange of texture and tone, perhaps “CMYK” alludes to the infinite number of colors that can be created from a short stack of elements. Nudging down the tempo, Blake then turns to “Footnotes,” a slinky, vocoder-led number. Leaving plenty of breathing room between woozy wafts of synth tone and jingling percussion, Blake shows restraint in conjuring a more reflective atmosphere.

“I’ll Stay” is a brief and more immediate abstraction of “CMYK”‘s club-friendly sound, drawing upon dusty R&B samples for the start-and-stop beat structure that sends vocal chunklets crashing through smokey pads. The EP closes with “Postpone,” the closest dubstep has come to a torch song, where snares cracks giving way to distended vocals humming and agreeing alongside stomping synth chords. A woman’s soaring vocal leads a fanfare of gloopy 8-bit tones and heliumed syllables into a long fade out, leaving listeners yearning for just another minute. It’s fascinating to hear Blake playing with expectations and influences while developing an already distinctive aesthetic, full of youthful energy but avoidant of excess. I hope more labels follow R&S’ lead in giving Blake the space to explore regardless if it fits their usual profile.

Si  on June 30, 2010 at 8:24 AM

CMYK is the best electronic track i’ve heard this year…amazing stuff

Per Bojsen-Moller  on July 1, 2010 at 12:25 PM

Mind blowing music

stephen kerr  on July 5, 2010 at 1:47 PM

haha i don’t know how much this has to do with the “detroit masters” (unless we’re talking about aaliyah!) but it’s easily one of the releases of the year. so inventive.

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