James Blake, "200 Press" EP (1-800-Dinosaur)
Four songs that further blur British producer-songwriter Blake's sound, the tracks on "200 Press" mix ethereal, fuzzy beats with distorted, syrupy vocal hooks and layers of subtle percussion. Blissfully synthetic, Blake's work has a John Cage-ian sense of both sound and silence. He isolates tones and utterances that in other hands might be cutting-room scraps, transforms them through precise manipulation and places them within geometric rows of rhythm.
"Building It Still" wobbles with bass and a bottle-clang beat while male and female vocals hum and yowl within a staticky mist. "Words That We Both Know" is a sound poem featuring drunken piano and a Munchkin-esque voice. It's the title track, though, that's the game-changer. A midtempo hip-hop jam — though purists might balk at this description — "200 Press" features an oblong bass line and lots of strange aural wobbles but manages to be both melodically sticky and strangely menacing. "Gather round the beat like a campfire," offers the voice. Gladly.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Norberto Lobo, "Fornalha" (three:four)
Especially since the early 1960s, acoustic guitarists have been wielding their instruments like superpowers — not only as shortcuts to excitement or introspection but as keys to four millenniums of sound. The guitar — through what it can and can't do, the variety of ways it can be played or altered, and its permutations among cultures — is a particularly good filter for the biggest release list of all: the history of musical expression. In the words of guitarist Jack Rose: "It's a limited instrument and a limitless instrument at the same time." With modes, slides, drones, bows, fingers, picks, a guitarist can tell a lot of the story of the world.
Lobo, a Portuguese guitarist in his early 30s who is full of talent and curiosity, seems ready to tell that story but not in any organized way. "Fornalha" ("furnace" in Portuguese) is not a pedantic record or a virtuosic one. He's following his instincts and is not afraid to lose you along the way.
Lobo's pieces, instrumental except for a bit of wordless singing, seem to move through country blues, Tin Pan Alley ballads, experimental drones and minimalism. More specifically, his music can suggest John Fahey, Steve Reich, Isaac Albeniz or the kinds of traditional pieces played on relatives of the lute — the ngoni from West Africa or the dombra from Central Asia. He uses digital echo and delay and looping in a rudimentary way, creating fraught clouds of sound rather than being clever. His technique does come through when he wants it to, but what's more impressive is how he encourages you to get lost while experiencing this record.
"Fran" is the album's keeper. But the album is brave enough to open and close with long, patient pieces made for the most part by playing the guitar with a bow, scratchily, repeating chord cycles until a secondary idea emerges or a cumulative truth is squeezed out.
BEN RATLIFF, New York Times