Over the past few years, Maya Jane Coles has developed one of the highest profiles in house music. The UK-bred producer's bubbling, sensual productions have attracted fans from across the electronic spectrum, and her recent releases have found her branching out even further, occasionally eschewing the dancefloor almost entirely. As she told us earlier this year as part of our Ladies on the Mic feature, she's keen to experiment with pop, so it comes as no surprise that her first proper album, Comfort, features plenty of catchy vocal hooks and arresting guest performances. Though the LP's instrumental compositions don't stray far from Coles' roots in densely atmospheric house, it seems inevitable that her debut full-length will alienate some of her more puritanical fans.
At first glance, the sheer volume of vocals on the album is a major change, especially for those who were seduced by Coles' earlier, largely instrumental records. She sings over almost half of the songs on Comfort, and the rest feature guest performances from the likes of Kim Ann Foxman and Miss Kittin. Even so, the instrumentals on songs like "Wait for You" are as immersive and deep as ever. That track actually provides a nice bed for Tricky's sultry talk-singing, which blends into the landscape of clicking hi-hats, pulsing rounded synth notes, and thumping kick drums. Nevertheless, Coles' own whispery vocals tend to be Comfort's least intrusive; on "Stranger," her quiet hook darts in and out of smoldering layers of low end and an understated synth line. Then there's "Come Home," which features only a single lyric from the producer; most of the song's four minutes are devoted to twanging, reverb-drenched guitar licks, grumbling bass tones, and purring synth pads.
That being said, there are moments where Coles allows the guest vocalists to steal a bit of the spotlight. On "Everything," Swedish musician Karin Park's nasal voice overpowers Coles' driving beat and flickering synth notes, despite the fact that lyrics like "You're everything that I wanted" come off a bit stale. Still, even on the most pop-oriented tracks, Coles doesn't compromise her artistic vision. She does flirt with pop, but her experimentations really don't go beyond her use of vocals, as every song showcases Coles' skill at crafting seductive and engaging rhythms. Comfort won't be for everyone, but it's hard to argue that the risks Coles has taken don't pay off. If nothing else, it's certainly fascinating to watch her expand her aesthetic beyond the dancefloor.