Last week, we unveiled the list of our most popular downloads of 2012, with UK talent Maya Jane Coles taking the top spot with her smoky rework of "Lost and Found" by soul-folk singer Lianne La Havas. Its success bodes especially well for Coles because her latest EP, Easier to Hide, takes a similarly sensual and slow-burning approach to four-on-the-floor rhythms. The record features four tracks of smoldering, luscious, and vocal-driven deep house—only this time, the singing comes from Coles herself.
Although most of her discography to date has explored bubbling, voluptuous house beats, this isn't the first time Coles has utilized her own vocals. "Senseless," a bouncing and tropical-tinged cut from last year's Focus Now EP, found the producer experimenting with the sort of breathy, ephemeral sing-talking she uses on Easier to Hide tracks like "Run With the Wild" and "Over." Similarly, the new EP opens with "Back to Square One," which delivers an infectious hook with a deadpan sultriness, and the other tunes follow in suit with more moody, panting vocals. Without question, it's the first time she's devoted so much attention to her own voice—she sings on every track on the record, not just one of them.
Thankfully, Coles never sacrifices the quality of her production for the singing, even on vocal-heavy tracks like "Easier to Hide" and "Over." The instrumental elements aren't subservient to the vocals—for example, on "Easier to Hide," the swooning synth zaps, lurching beat, and undulating bass provide an immersive environment for the vocal components. And because the lyrics are simple and repetitive, they don't warp the music's deep-house grammar into a traditional verse/chorus/bridge format.
Nevertheless, it's a little disappointing to hear Coles sing over every track—not because she doesn't pull it off, and not because it marks a shift into poppier and more accessible territory, but because it seems like increasingly few female producers are choosing to make tracks without singing. This year, many of the most notable electronic releases to come from women featured vocal performances, from dance-music aces like Nina Kraviz and Cooly G, to experimental artists like Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, and Ryat, to pop crossovers like Grimes. On a case by case basis, there's nothing wrong with an artist deciding to sing on a track, but each instance reflects a larger trend where female producers are electing to craft vocal-driven songs, reinforcing the notion that instrumental production is exclusively a man's artistic realm. That being said, even if it can be filed away as part of a potentially disheartening trend, the Easier to Hide EP is a quality piece of work. Coles continues to impress, and her ascent in the house-music realm will likely only continue in 2013.