Maya Jane Coles recently topped RA's October 50 with "What They Say," a definitive arrival for the 22-year-old London producer who was until recently something of a dark horse. She has a respectable catalog of dusky, brittle tech house going back two years, mostly on the labels Dogmatik and 1trax; you can hear her working out her vision in those tracks, carving her own particular stamp out of familiar materials—finely whittled digital production, rolling sub bass, broad strokes of sampled voice, dubby chord stabs, detuned keys.
It's not hard to see why "What They Say" has been her biggest success so far; the descending organ riff, almost an acid house motif, gives it an anthemic quality, but with restraint—buffed and blurred, with a brushed-steel finish. The "D'you know" vocal offers just as much hook as it needs to, while another voice in the background (Tracey Chapman?) lends a deeper, more melancholic sensibility. There are a lot of possible reasons it works as well as it does; I'd put my money on the way the organ's descending spiral works against the upturned vocal melodies, but that's all academic. What's certain is that the trebly, trembling synth that enters halfway opens up yet another dimension in the track, a masterstroke that completes the whole thing.
"Rugged" is a percussive tech-house jam, with lots of blippy samples and a long, passionate strip of voice. It's less distinctive, but you can hear what she's going for—between the voice and the cottony rim shots, there's more than a hint of Burial's influence, even if the pulse has been sped up and the beats squared off. Like him, she's exploring the way samples trail off and tangle up; she's just mapping those coordinates to a more streamlined topography. There's also a little Burial in "Don't Tell," with its gentle lurch and wooden percussion. Soft, rolling synthesizers and porous contours give the track a similar feel to "What They Say"—slightly less immediate, but just as engrossing.
"Simple Things" flips the lead track's riff upside down and quickens the tempo; it's darker in mood and seems, at first, less dynamic, with a more limited harmonic range. But she makes the strictures work for her, slowly teasing in muted leads and voices that open up hidden doors in the track's humble architecture. None of them are particularly groundbreaking tracks, but they accomplish their mission with graceful self-assurance, providing the sharpest picture of Coles' musical vision to date.
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Tracklist: Maya Jane Coles - What They Say 01. What They Say
03. Simple Things
04. Don't Tell Me
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