James Blake has been keeping a decidedly low profile this year, playing a handful of shows but largely staying out of the spotlight. It is telling that his first release of 2012 is a track that started doing the rounds on mixes and in Blake’s own DJ sets as early as June 2010, around the time that the CMYK EP broke the young artist as a major one-to-watch. It seems like a lot longer than two years ago considering the groundswell of hype that followed, and subsequently petered out somewhat, but after an extended will-he-won’t-he, his collaboration with UK grime artist Trim under the Harmonimix moniker he has previously used for white-label edits of Lil Wayne and Destiny’s Child has finally been given the full vinyl treatment by early adopter R&S Records.
And what a track it is. Losing not an iota of its potency in the interim, we find Blake playing with fire once more (as Trim quite literally does in the video), proving that his forte remains the unique ability he possesses to wring new meaning out of existing source material through vocal manipulation and the application of space. What begins as a sealed, minimal vacuum for Trim to spit bars detailing perseverance in the face of the harsh realities of life is punctured by oven-warm synths at the minute mark before being torn apart entirely at the halfway mark with a queasy wash of harshness, affording force and intensity to Trim’s repeated mantra. Blake warps Trim’s vocals with a chipmunk effect that seems as if he is providing backing harmonies as well as the lead, folding the lines over themselves as the sparse backdrop gives way for something overwhelming. This is all augmented by what sounds unmistakably like Blake’s own vocal wails as the track continues to accumulate magnitude before the tidal wave of noise recedes, leaving nothing but Trim’s vocals standing still, clear and defiant, although still uneasy. It could have been a total mess but instead carries significant emotional heft, building and releasing with force to buoy Trim’s sink-estate tales of having “a dad or a mum, but not both” and convey a very British sense of malaise and internal struggle. It’s a winning combination and stands up alongside the aforementioned “CMYK” as one of Blake’s strongest pieces of production to date. The fact that it is over two years old matters not a jot: this collaboration has ridiculous replay value, simultaneously tugging at the heartstrings and making the head spin; indeed, it really is “as good as gold.” Strike a pose.