BBC Radio 1 is home to many diverse musicians. From time to time, it allows experimental artists to place a temporary residence as the host of the radio show. Four artists in particular have become largely involved in the British music scene and have each defined themselves through their innovative styles. While I enjoy every one of these musicians, I’ve noticed a small theme emerging from the sound of the music. Each artist represents a season of the year. The frigid winter months belong to the endeavours of James Blake, the sultry spring temperatures are represented through Four Tet, the stunning summer sun is the product of Jamie xx, and the autumn breeze is crafted by SBTRKT. Below I have evaluated these four prodigies and given examples to further explore my case.
This British beauty’s presence in the post-dubstep world has provoked the following of many youthful talents. Blake’s haunting, lovesick tracks howl and cool those who dare to engage in his master craft. The barren piano-key plunks assisted by a whirlwind of synthetics unveil a frozen wonderland, desolate but intriguing. Through examination of the early works of James Blake, the cold temperatures of his instrumentation are stunning to hear. “Give A Man A Rod” from 2010’s The Bells Sketch EP dives headfirst into demonic vocal pitch-shifts that give a chilling punch. The crackling trend continues on Blake’s debut self-titled album with icy gems such as “Unluck” with its auto-tuned crescendo and “Why Don’t You Call Me” with its hollow, cavernous echoes. On Blake’s more recent projects, 2013’s Overgrown highlights like “Retrograde”, “Digital Lion”, and “Voyeur”, unfold dizzying blusters of percussion and subzero vocal tones to uphold the overall sense of frigidness. Not only are the songs of James Blake icy in their sound and melody, but the physical packaging of his releases reflect a cold atmosphere as well. The bold colour scheme of blues, whites, and greys represent the winter weather engulfing Blake’s music. Whether it be the subtle hues of blue on the self-titled cover or the literal photograph of Blake atop the snowy ground on Overgrown‘s cover, James Blake’s general musical aesthetic surrounds the thrills and chills of the winter season.
One of the innovating members of the British post-rock movement is Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet. His one-of-a-kind scheming has mingled genres from jazz to folk to experimental. He began his music training as early as 1998 and continues to evolve his sound with each release. One common ground that Four Tet is known for is creating a warm euphoria; an early morning rise of a new spring day. From his earliest works, Four Tet demonstrated his melting pot of noise through tranquility. The water-based, animal-sampling “3.3 Degrees From The Pole” off 1999’s Dialogue is an anthem of smooth bass melodies accompanied by vibrant brass instruments and the mood of a budding season. “Everything Is Alright” from 2001’s wonderful Pause provides a comparable vibe with its sensory acoustic guitar clips and light percussion as a supporting arch. Later releases like “Plastic People” from There Is Love In You and “Ocoras” from Pink delve into a more synthetic sound while keeping true to the spring-ish disposition. The embrace of a calm stream melting away the winter months is embodied beautifully in the example of Four Tet. His relaxed manner of creation is a pleasant listen to let the listener dissolve their troubles. The album packaging of Four Tet also corresponds to the generally balmy music. The three most recent Four Tet albums (There Is Love In You, Pink, and Beautiful Rewind) all include brightly lit arrangements of spring colours. Instead of remaining in the sullen puddles of winter, Four Tet’s overall sentiment brings forth pleasure and anticipation for what lies ahead.
Jamie Smith, known for his astounding number of remixes, his contribution to The xx, and his now-budding solo career, envelopes the feeling of a hot summer day with a sunny musical attitude and a backyard bash attraction. The upbeat tracks of Jamie xx could hide stealthily among modern club bangers. Swelling to enormous proportions, each song by Jamie xx slowly catches fire and moves cautiously until detonation. From the beginning, Jamie xx portrayed himself through his music as someone who enjoys the warm weather and a lush setting. The sparkling steel drums of “Far Nearer” give an imaginative impression of a tropical paradise. As he prepares his debut album, Jamie xx has offered samples of what’s to come. With the release of four songs from In Colour (due in June), early impressions suggest a tasteful array of sun-soaked hits. The skewed vocal samples add to the already monumental “Girl”, a track that can only be described as the auditory version of flowers blooming in a colourful field of creation. “Loud Places” is another immense release that features fellow xx band member Romy Madley Croft taking control of the singing. As the music video for this track shows, “Loud Places” is a summer jam that desires to be heard over loud speakers while skateboarding around the city. It’s a tremendous example of growth, spreading its wings slowly as the song builds. Jamie xx also has a colour palette that offers a warm feeling for what lies beneath his album covers. The single art for Girl/Sleep Sound is a baby blue, florescent and hard to miss. The single art for All Under One Roof Raving is a berry-tinged red, resembling that of fresh strawberries or raspberries, fresh for the plucking. The cover for In Colour naturally features a rainbow of bright colours, pinwheeled together in a circular buzz of stimulation. The music and art of Jamie xx is the embodiment of a hot day; one that should be enjoyed to the fullest extent.
Aaron Jerome, more easily recognized behind the mask as SBTRKT (pronounced “subtract”), projects his misty autumn image in a sterling example of semi-tepid rhythms. His appearance is obscured by a series of masks that allow for anonymity. In an interview with Clash Magazine, Jerome explained, ” “[I’d] rather not talk about myself as a person, and let the music speak for itself”. Indeed, his music speaks volumes in a manner of intricacy. SBTRKT is known for giving established singers and rappers centre stage as he provides them with the necessary instrumentation. From his debut self-titled album, brisk beats filled the album’s spanning catalogue. Tracks like “Sanctuary” that features vocalists Sampha and Jessie Ware swirl in a hazy electronic atmosphere, offering an illusionary walk through a forest as leaves blow in the wind. Other tracks, like “Ready Set Loop”, provide a feeling of pure bliss like that of a pumpkin spice latte warming the body from the outside in. On his second album, Wonder Where We Land, similar themes of temporary chills sweeps throughout. “Look Away” featuring Caroline Polachek of Chairlift has distorted vocals that pierce the ears like sharp gusts and instrumentals that add an extra punch. While much of the album is quite cold in complexion, the industrial city crawl of “New Dorp. New York” featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig shines through the frost to expose its funky aesthetic. SBTRKT’s album covers do not follow any distinctive colour trend like the other UK examples above, but the overall presence of the talented artist give a bright mixture of hot and cold like the unpredictability of an autumn day.