Available on: Hessle Audio 12″

James Blake, whose astonishing ‘Air, and Lack Thereof’ single not only turned every head paying attention, but established him as a particularly talented face amongst this current milieu of gifted dubstep splinter groups that includes Blakes’ close associates Mount Kimbie, here brings his scuff-edged strains to Hessle Audio in the shape of The Bells Sketch, a three track EP.

Juxtaposing lounge piano with anxious synth stabs, opening track ‘The Bells Sketch’ plays like a mind-bending battle for the deepest corners of your subconscious. This is not dance music with a sense of tradition; this is an animated, sensory engagement with the other side. A dark atmosphere descends on the track, rough-rimmed and skuzzy, overshadowing those initial ambient pads. Only when those piercing, unnatural chords blow over does normality resume, leaving their static-flecked groove ingrained on the track’s melody while soothing ‘mmm-mmms’ distract from the raw tension of what’s past.

‘Buzzard and Kestrel’ features a clacking stumble of garbled vocals and dog whistle melodies. The track clatters on pleasantly without real incident for more than half of its duration, until the arrival of a rattling cowbell heralds the onset of glowing, digitized fizzes that bring together a twitchy piece of shambling hip-hop. The real epiphany happens when those stoked flames of colour die out – it’s not as if Blake was twiddling his thumbs through this track’s almost casual groove; he’s deftly guided it through a subtle conception, life and gradual fade.

The EP closes with the lurching, drunken kicks of ‘Give the Man a Rod’; blurred, swooping claps and cough syrup screwed vocals coming like a limping Flying Lotus track. The Bells Sketch is a complex thing – beautiful and difficult, its glitch-peppered oddities are addictive, but bursting at the seams with a desire to experiment and a complete lack of compromise.

Mike Coleman



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