Aaron Frank empathizes with James Blake having two first names.
It was a welcome surprise when James Blake opted to follow his stellar CMYK with another in the same year. CMYK was a groundbreaking first step for the “post-dubstep” genre, and though I’m circumspect towards that particular name (I remain vague on the definition of “post-punk”), the EP stablished James Blake as a genre figurehead. Frequently collaborating with Mount Kimbie and Untold, Blake has forged his own style, often including his own pitch-warped vocals, erratic drum patterns, and dulcet melodies assembled mostly via piano and computer.
But Blake’s ability to concentrate so much emotion and energy into a frequently stale genre has launched him to the forefront. While the modern formula for dubstep progression can often be MORE BASS AND WOBBLE, the 21 year- old has a singular ability to pack more pathos into to a four minute tune than some DJ’s deliver in an hour. And on Klavierwerke, Blake balances an enhanced focus with a rewarding risky streak. Ever faithful to his minimalist roots, the title track rewards patience with its low-key funk that mimics the rhythm of a respirator. “Tell Her Safe” is an uptempo, percussion laden jag featuring a ectoplasmic vocal sample that sounds like it could’ve once haunted a 1920’s piano parlor — though that could stem from my recent fixation with Boardwalk Empire.
The track that’s orbited the blogs, “I Only Know (What I Know Now)” turns out to be the only real disappointment. It feels like Blake discovered a perfect sitar sample and the other right cadavers, but stopped halfway, opting to leave the surgery unfinished. While “Don’t You Think I Do” closes the EP with a daunting piano riff and more of Blake’s signature off kilter, dubstep-descended drums.
While it may lack the punch of its predecessor, Klavierwerke makes up for it with a noticeable creative progression. It’s a snapshot of an artist willing to take chances, while staying faithful to the style that made him popular in the first place. And with plans for a piano-based album and a recently leaked cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love,” the future remains endearingly uncertain.