It's quite odd to think that it's been two years since Here, London-based producer Deadboy's last Numbers release. If anything, following a year that saw him DJ under the Numbers banner at countless clubs and festivals right across Europe and beyond, he seems like a more integral member of the fold now than he did back in 2011. In fact, when he's at his best, Deadboy's sets perfectly epitomize the balance of styles that the promotions-outfit-come-umbrella label has made its calling card; combining a light-hearted affection for '80s power-pop and '90s R&B with a deep knowledge of the roots of house, techno, and garage, he comes across as both ambitious and well informed without ever taking things too seriously. On Blaquewerk, Deadboy channels this combination of influences perfectly, resulting in an EP that is playfully nostalgic throughout but nonetheless feels like a significant stylistic step forward.
Opener "On Your Mind" sees Deadboy foregoing his usual disco-leaning vocal samples in favor of his own voice. Fortunately, his vocal contribution is mercifully understated—it's limited to a half-mumbled romantic ode that's drenched in effects and fed through a vocoder—allowing plenty of breathing room for the lush retro synths and shuffling house beat beneath. This sense of understatement carries across to the rest of the tune, too; despite being built upon a relatively upfront bassline and an utterly anthemic synth hook, "On Your Mind" is actually a fairly slow-burning track with a careful, minimal arrangement. The elements of the tune may be fairly full-on in themselves, but Deadboy uses each sparingly to create a mood-driven, drawn-out work of deep house. This less-is-more approach is also applied to "Geek'd Up," as Deadboy builds a bare-bones house rhythm out of a simplistic drum-machine beat and four-note bass hook before layering on a repitched vocal. Halfway through, he drops in a rave-friendly piano line, which sounds all the more anthemic against the backdrop of the minimal and bass-heavy beat.
The second half of the release sees Deadboy delving a little deeper into his dance-music influences. "Black Reign" is a work of classic late-night garage, complete with muddy, reverb-heavy atmospherics and heavily filtered vocal lines. Here, he dials down some of the more colorful elements to create a track that pays tribute to his London roots, although it ultimately lacks some of the personality of the two tracks that precede it. Meanwhile, "Nova"—the final track of the EP—finds Deadboy in vintage drum & bass territory, combining a faithful jungle break and 808 bass riff to replicate the sounds of mid-'90s warehouse raves. As the track reaches its crescendo, however, he introduces layers of melody via washed-out synth pads and heavily delayed vocals, resulting in a climax that's full of character—and one which acts as a perfect coda to the EP.
On the whole, Blaquewerk feels like a representation of Deadboy at his best; it's enjoyably nostalgic throughout, constantly playing on a variety of vintage influences, but—with the possible exception of "Black Reign"—he never lets the homage paying overshadow his ability to craft a well thought-out dance tune with plenty of charisma. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another two years for his next release.