Rampaging across the blogosphere, James Blake, still only 21 and one of London’s most promising young electronic producers, has broken through the world of dubstep and onto mainstream radio. His third and fourth EPs CMYK and Klavierwerke have been critically hailed here in England, the former vinyl selling like hot cakes and the latter receiving a more general release that culminated in the release of a hauntingly beautiful Feist cover,”Limit to Your Love.”
One interesting feature of British-based “bedroom” producers at the moment is the prominence of R&B samples and melodies. Tracks like Keith Sweat’s “Twisted” or Kelis’ “Caught Out There” flourish on CMYK under this man’s watchful gaze. Aaliyah samples are dropped in, worked on, and fished out of a digital mix. The genre’s focus is emotional, hazy, and subtly tinged with memory: “a kind of dead zone for nostalgia, not yet retro-ready but no longer current”, said Mike Powell on Pitchfork.
And I would certainly agree. Fleeting use of these 90s tracks does strike a dead zone. Early twenty somethings such as myself have snippets of these commercial tracks from childhood lodged somewhere in the back of minds, vague and hazy, like Blake’s samples.
The stop-start of “Footnotes” uses an addictive downtempo beat reminiscent of the best warped dubstep. It is consistently minimal, playing with the slightest jolts and clicks to mould something atmospheric and confused. But the song that most readers would be most familiar with is title track “CMYK.” Its upbeat and frequently joyous lifts are a good example of the smooth R&B Blake gently handles. “I’ll Stay” is the warmest, most accessible track of the four, and I would love to know how Blake found the short, one second thuds roll around it with a split second of vocal sample.
CMYK is by all accounts a mess, but is also (in my opinion) one of the most exciting and unusual EPs of the year. In just four tracks, Blake could scarcely manage more wild journeying through musical memory, jigsaws of hooks and fuzz with so few blips, beats, and jolts. It’s undoubtedly the best of breaking UK dubstep.