In the two years that have passed since Untold's Hemlock imprint debuted the work of the (then referred to as) "South London producer, keyboardist and live vocalist for Mount Kimbie" we've come to know as UK wunderkind James Blake, a lot has happened. With touchstone releases for Hessle Audio and R&S to his name, we've seen Blake go from burgeoning producer of R&B-tinged post-dubstep to bass music innovator, and, with the release of his polarizing debut LP earlier this year, to an indie darling of sorts, tapping a wide range of listeners well beyond the bass music spectrum. Now, we find Blake at an impasse of sorts, returning to the imprint that kicked off his solo career, and one can't help but see a certain narrative taking shape.
Fortunately, the South Londoner seems to have plenty of tricks up his sleeve as proven by the somewhat unexpected, but welcome, twist of style that has resulted in two songs completely vacant of Blake's trademark R&B infusion—or vocals. "Order" b/w "Pan" are instead a pair of starkly minimal tracks that find the producer incredibly focused on deep, dark sounds. The a-side, "Order," feels like a warm-up in comparison to its counterpart. Led by a slow-brewing core rhythm, which remains virtually untouched throughout the tune, Blake incorporates a few choice slices of detailed percussion along with a small array of high-pitched, at times almost squealing, drones. "Pan" is a much more textural and enveloping outing, pairing tiny percussion percolations and ghostly pads with absolutely gut-rattling bass. With the precision of a surgeon, Blake places ever more intricate patterns of hiss and noise atop the desolate core, somehow evoking a tribal movement from such obviously mechanical sources. Whereas "Order" is the palate cleanser—acting as an introduction to this side of Blake's production—"Pan" is a complete composition, one that proves his work is just as impressive even when it is stripped bare of its usual allure.