Can dubstep take partial responsibility for vitality of James Blake’s music? Pretty hard to say, as his successes to date (in particular his jawdropping remix of Untold’s ‘Stop What You’re Doing’ and the cheeky Harmonimix bootleg of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills Bills Bills’) are unique enough to suggest that he would probably have still been making gorgeous slo-mo soul even if he’d grown up somewhere in the Outer Hebrides. As it is, we’ve got circumstance to thank for the fact that he’s London-based, and that the sounds of the emergent dubstep scene over the last few years – bass, space, and a headful of weed smoke – have so thoroughly permeated his music.
This Brainmath collaboration with Airhead – only his second ‘proper’ release, believe it or not – takes the smeared synths of his Hemlock debut and mashes them through a run-down analogue filter. Given that the cassette tape is making a comeback amongst hipster circles (God knows why – their romance comes falling back to earth with a bang once you accidentally leave the damn thing too close to something seriously magnetic), the fact that ‘Pembroke’s detuned melodies sound pretty close to your Walkman running out of batteries seems strangely appropriate. What’s even better is that it proves to be entirely a good thing, as sudden bursts of high-pitched vocal harmony offset its woozy stagger to perversely euphoric effect.
Both tracks tap into a little of what Blake’s music has previously only hinted at, that sweetly keening melancholy that lies at the heart of all great soul music. That he manages to generate that same deep emotional resonance with scarely a coherent lyric is all the more impressive – and the fact that both tracks are barely sketches, flickering around the three minute mark before slinking away quietly, suggests there are even better things to come. He’s certainly one of the most intriguing producers to have been adopted by the dubstep crowd, and a little like his sometime bandmates in Mount Kimbie his music offers a tantalising glimpse of that community’s potential for fostering unique one-offs.