After listening to “Klavierwerke EP”, one should have a legitimate question: is James Blake really doing dubstep or one of its many mutations? Or is it, on the contrary, an approach to the sound of the London underground from an academic position in which the main thing in the fusion is contemporary music? At times, the pianos and silences are more decisive aesthetic material, for example, than the density of the basses. The answer isn’t simple, and it is the impossibility of giving a good, immediate answer—that is to say, the impossibility of cataloguing this music, since not even post-dubstep serves as a handy label—that allows this record to take an outstanding position in the starting line of future classics. First of all, there is nothing (even remotely) similar on the market, and that is a fact: no dubstep record has Schönberg-style piano phrasing, nor does any contemporary sheet music, however audacious, contain references to the sandy dub of Rhythm & Sound like the ones that seep into these four cuts. Nor should we take things out of context and exaggerate with statements like “Blake is reinventing music,” because he isn’t reinventing anything, he’s just adding ingredients that used to work separately until now—but it is undeniable that his efforts to crystallise a palette of textures of academic music in his off-club electronic have finally bumped into a spectacular result.
The post-garage location of “CMYK EP” (R&S Records, 2010) is already history. James Blake has turned his back on the club—he was the one who, in an act of coherence, declared that he would prefer for people to be moved while listening to his productions rather than dancing to them; his ideal dance floor is a slow, introspective one, with the audience on the verge of tears, the opposite of enthusiastic celebration. As a second act of coherence, he has put all of his home-listening obsessions into “Klavierwerke EP”. His progression has been meteoric and his maturity earned in less than a year. For a DJ, this plastic is an invitation to suicide: it can only be played when no one is around, or when everyone has to go. Burial, despite the introspection, still keeps the beat solid during decisive moments, like in “Archangel” or “Raver”. Burial is, of course, an inevitable reference point for this autistic James Blake: a title like “I Only Know (What I Know Now)” should be understood as a progression from the paralysing ecstasy of “Shell of Light”, with the adornment of a piano that seems like the introduction to a Chopin nocturne, and some voices that could be the old divas of soul and opera—with the static noise made by the needle on the record player—with the pitch going up and down to create that irresistible effect somewhere between angelic voices and psychophony.
At the other end of these four pieces are Mount Kimbie, their neighbourhood friends, the same Mount Kimbie with whom Blake has performed like a third live component, and with whom ideas are exchanged. The laidback background of “Crooks & Lovers” is the same in “Klavierwerke EP,” but James Blake lets a few seconds of dissonance and tension slip in, keeping his music from being totally relaxing. If Mount Kimbie throw themselves too much into the pastoral sound, and have moments of coffee-table music, James Blake knows how to handle those moments more astutely and finds songs like “Don’t You Think I Do”, which is the remix that Antony would ask for if one day he wanted a song of his to have the grey, rainy colour of a moving future garage. In conclusion, Blake has the post-dubstep padding and the emotion of a recent awakening, as was made clear with 12”s like “The Bells Sketch” (Hessle Audio, 2010), but now he has added a few drops of cushioned Berlin techno-dub (“Klavierwerke”), liquid pianos, a double ambiental layer, and disdain for club music, to end up taking refuge in a world that belongs to him alone and for which few artists—perhaps Sutekh or Francesco Tristano, there aren’t many more– have the aptitude to conquer. And all of this in only 16 minutes. What will happen when he decides to release the album?
James Blake - I Only Know (What I Know Now)
James Blake - Don't You Think I Do