James Blake – CMYK
Chickens Don’t Clap!: #12, Treble: #38
After drawing some critical attention for his excellent 2009 single “Air & Lack Thereof” / “Sparing the Horse”, James Blake laid his claim to the throne of dubstep’s more deliberate and reflective underbelly in 2010 with a couple more noteworthy singles and three stellar EPs. His growing discography is filled with an impressive amount of variation and standout tracks, but his strongest single offering from this year is the title track of the R&B-obsessed CMYK EP. Though quickly becoming known as a master of stark minimalism, Blake’s “CMYK” balances its initial sparseness with a massive, surging wall of buzzing bass, waves of static, vocal cut-ups, and layered, syncopated beats. Centered on a few sampled passages of Kelis’ 1999 single “Caught Out There”, this tune completely transforms these fragments into something well beyond the traditional role of lyrics and language in pop music, mutating and modulating them into mysterious, hazy, dark, and emotive elements of sound. Ultimately, “CMYK” feels like one of those watershed moments for dubstep and electronic music more broadly, as Blake stretches and embellishes the familiar into something refreshing and wholly original.