Thursday, October 14, 2010

R & S Records

R & S represents the initials of Renaat & Sabine, the couple that created this quintessential label of the history of the electronic music. Based in Ghent, Belgium, it held the privilege to be located on one of the oldest and most traditional cities of Europe. This city which once used to have a medieval shape changed very suddenly, at the right moment when the machines started to dominate the scenario. Across the streets, you could see a different generation emerging. But for the three massive cathedrals (St. Peter, St. Baaf and the newer one of Gothic design, St. Nicholas, built in the 13th century), the city passed through a serious transformation since the beginning of the nineties. At that time, a new revolution has attained this Belgian community: the one of the rise of the machines, made mainly through innovation and experimentation, principles that will always remain as the main landmarks of R & S Records.

Created by the visionary Renaat Vandepapeliere and his wife Sabine Maes, R recruited almost every single artist of avant-garde essence from late eighties to the first half of the nineties. Renaat’s passion for Ferraris has been notorious, which explained why he initially decided to use the Ferrari logo for the label, probably paying substantial royalties for it, from 1988 to 1989.

James Blake James Blake - Klavierwerke is out now on R & S Records

James Blake continues to push forward. But this doesn't mean what it normally means. Like Burial, Blake has a cultivated an aura far removed from the individual styles of producers. You listen to a new Blake record not to see what it does to you, but to hear what Blake has done.

It's hard not to wonder what experiences might have inspired the Klavierwerke EP. Its four songs feel sadder and more intimate, somehow, than Blake's previous releases on Hessle, Hemlock and R&S. Take the piano notes that open "Klavierwerke," which wouldn't be out of place on a Cat Power record. The song is quite forward for Blake, with its tragic swell of voices that repeats like a mantra (then dissolves into an isolated cry), and a naked bassline that sounds like a heartbeat.

"Don't You Think I Do" is punctured by synths that lurch around like a torch singer—the kind of obvious trick that shouldn't work, but which Blake mastered on his "Stop What You're Doing" remix for Untold. Unlike the remix, it never climaxes, eating itself down to a chord, a downtrodden chromatic scale and a quiver. "I Only Know What I Know Now," meanwhile, hints at catharsis—imagining the snare as a soul clap—but it's unsettled by the keys beneath. Blake's muted, disembodied voices are a mystery throughout. For all the emotion that these songs put forth, just as many feelings remain hidden in brief pauses and blankets of hiss. Blake's ingenious move is to seemingly dance around the truth, leaving the listener to figure things out.

Only "Tell Her Safe" feels out of place here, for daring to be different. Its skittering pops and clicks are a little too blithe, its muffled refrain too bright to match the other songs in their fugue-like depths. "Tell Her Safe" has the somewhat inert quality of a Dntel single in want of a dance remix. In its best stretches, though, the collection floats by in a handful of seconds, less a record to mix than to simply put on.