Maya Jane Coles, ‘Comfort’ – Album Review
It’s honestly a surprise Maya Jane Coles still isn’t a household name. For the past couple years, the young Englishwoman has made a habit of stamping her name on every club bill, every festival roster and every DJ mix series that matters. Never mind that she’s left each having singlehandedly rejuvenated U.K. house music. From Berlin’s Panorama Bar to DJ-Kicks to Coachella, she’s rightly made an impression.
Coles likes wormy pop melodies, sonar bass pulses, midnight atmospherics and an isolated sense of space. Listening to her masterful 2012 DJ-Kicks release is like sticking your head into a velvet echo chamber. Her DJ/producer venn diagram has a considerable amount of overlap, and she’s certainly found a through-line between both facets of her output. That said, her own productions have proven to be simpler, more low-gear dance-floor material with a healthy dose of pop overtones rather than the intricate shape-shifter displays of her DJ sets. Coles’ own vocals barely hover above a whisper, and the deep-tissue throb of her production follows suit.
Coles’ debut, ‘Comfort,’ comes to us off her own label, I Am Me (she also did the album artwork), and sees her putting her globetrotting reputation to good use, landing guest spots from talents like Hercules and Love Affair’s Kim Ann Foxman and trip-hop monolith Tricky. ‘Comfort’ is a guest-heavy affair, and on seven of these twelve tracks, she hands the mic over to someone else. Coles’ vocals appear on most of the other tracks, but the backdrop remains a consistent watercolor mixture of steely guitar plucks, slinky synth arpeggios and heart-murmur bass lines. It’s a pop record with Coles’ house leanings lurking beneath a thick inky surface.
‘Comfort’ bleeds an intimate emotional energy, and if Maya Jane Coles has her own sound, it’s found within the dusky, backstreet atmosphere these songs emanate. Coles always aims for the present tense, where she could just as easily staple a momentous dance hook and it gives the tracks a depth and lived-in quality that goes beyond pop and dance music. There’s the bobbing synth arpeggio on the title track or the staggered piano melody on ‘Burning Bright’ or the slithering guitar line on ‘Blame.’ On ‘Stranger,’ Coles smothers the neon-lit synth hook with a cupful of reverb, lending it a detached air that gives her contemplative vocals the lead.
There is the distinct feeling that by the time ‘Fall From Grace’ rolls around, we’ve heard everything ‘Comfort’ has to offer. The second half is just as strong as the first, but it doesn’t go out of its way to try anything new either. ‘Comfort’ is still a debut worthy of Coles’ sudden rise to prominence, but it’s also evidence the Englishwoman still has some room to grow. Don’t get it mixed up, though: Wherever Coles go from here, she’s worth keeping an eye on.