REVIEW: James Blake – CMYK / Klavierwerke EP

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Sometimes music artists can be a little too good for our own good. Other times they can be just good enough. This first sentiment certainly rings true with James Blake who recently releases not one but two EPs side by side.

As one of a few fresh faces climbing to perhaps follow in the footsteps of previous recording heavyweights, Blake is quickly rising to the limelight in the music production world.

Blake’s sound incorporates a keen, equal measure of r&b, hip hop, grime, dubstep and electronica. Once mixed together in the proper manner, it all starts to sound – as opposed to a mish-mash of whatever is available to hand – rather quite good.

EP CMYK kicks off in nostalgic style as opening title track “CMYK” harks back to old 90s rave-pop – only with more sped-up beats and an overall far less irritating noise. The synth layered over vocal samples, rather than dating the piece, added weight to whole affair and seemed to sweep it into the future.

Speaking of the future, second track “Footnotes” lands us with more flowing synth and altered vocals making you feel as if you’ve just fallen backwards into a video game, while smooth number “I’ll Stay” compels you to do just that. Final track on the disc, “Postpone,” stirs in a wild concoction of maddening beats, cool hip hop choruses and triumphant horns to send the record off gracefully.

Blake’s second EP (although in no particular order) Klavierwerke leaves no time for introductions as it jumps straight in with title track “Klavierwerke”: a spooky, repetitive groove that rolls on and on. Second track “Tell Her Safe” uses muffled piano and brash gang vocals to seamlessly feed in Blake’s infectious beats and hypnotic melodies. It’s then onto the gently encompassing, stop-start and bafflingly-titled (if only for the pure obviousness of it) “I Only Know (What I Know What)” before bouncing off every wall with synth-heavy “Don’t You Think I Do.”

Getting a earful of both CMYK and Klavierwerke, it’s plain to see why Blake is becoming such a talked-about name. The 20-something producer, as well loading each composition with effects, has used vocals from Aaliyah and R Kelly skewing their sounding too. Blake brings in more musical stylings on top of his already rich catalog to choose from, including soulful grooves and a few flashes of afrobeat.

One thing worth noting on Blake’s shift from music production to creation is the eerie quality he manages to emote in his work. It’s clear that Blake wants to push out a harsh, experimental feel using breaks in the flow to give the listener time to squirm. However this can sometimes serve to alienate your listeners. Artists past and present have lost considerable fan base just from pursuing an interesting change in direction that may not prove so lucrative. Then again, considering Blake’s relative obscurity, perhaps the sorts of listeners that would feel alienated by something a little strange are not the social demographic Blake is really aiming for. Also – those non-listeners can always kick back and turn on a nice bit of mind-numbing commercial radio – something you don’t have to think about.

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