As opposed to the blown-out R&B histrionics of his R&S debut, CMYK, Londoner James Blake takes the humble source material of his own piano and voice and stretches, chops, and dices it in his signature manner on follow-up EP Klavierwerke. The results are his most spare, haunting compositions yet, more intensely personal yet strikingly alien, Blake distorting and molesting his own voice in the same way he’s done to nameless others in the past. The ominous “Klavierwerke” pivots on a central throb, as a single vocal phrase cries out only to be twisted and torn by the harsh, unfriendly atmosphere. It’s Blake’s own skewed take on techno, turning its thumping pulse inward for something that sounds deeply, uncomfortably probing. Just try and dance to this. “Tell Her Safe” and “Don’t You Think I Do” hearken back to his Hessle Audio EP, spindly bits of unstable new jack swing melodies negotiating Blake’s unconventional percussion.
But the star is undoubtedly “I Only Know (What I Know Now),” which carefully expands outward from a halting piano riff into a sort of inverted waltz, plaintive warbles reverberating wonderfully with the sonorous keys. Every time we hear Blake’s voice or piano, it’s accompanied by a glorious cloud of tape hiss, momentarily bringing his strange music back into the realm of the human. It’s the sound of Blake reaching out directly to his growing audience, giving them something to hold onto, even if he takes it away a millisecond after — but what else would you expect from someone as mercurially brilliant as James Blake? “I Only Know (What I Know Now)” is the kind of savvy move that would seem cunningly calculated if it weren’t still so daringly experimental. Blake is receiving an unprecedented amount of attention from all corners of the music world, but with astounding music like Klavierwerke coming out of him like clockwork, I’m growing more certain he deserves it all and more.