Track of the Day: ‘CMYK’ by BBNG

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

James Blake is the type of artist that thrives in the elusive gray areas, the dark, moody subtleties of lingering pianos and trailing vocal harmonies. His style is a unique blend of somnambulic soul and thumping British post-dubstep. This music is not only notoriously difficult to cover, but also tough to make even moodier. Unless you’re BADBADNOTGOOD.

The Toronto-based jazz trio, who just released their fourth album, IV, have been quietly making some tidal waves under the surface of the indie music world. They’ve collaborated on an album with Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, jammed with Tyler, The Creator, and worked with Future Islands’ Sam Herring (of David Letterman fame).

On this cover from 2012’s excellent BBNG 2 (which also included versions of Kanye West and Flying Lotus tunes), BABADNOTGOOD take Blake’s choppy, hypnotic piece and add heavy, languid flourishes to it. The bass disappears on a spacey free-jazz ramble, the piano rings like a wild bell on the upper register, thick synth sounds roll in and out, and the drums—it’s hard to even describe. The snare is constantly twirling and rumbling with purpose, as drummer Alex Sowinski frantically alternates between playing his cymbals and toms with a loose, laid-back aesthetic and at break-neck speed. “CMYK” is old-school jazz run through the sieve of digital thinking, hip-hop production, and glitchy, internet-age rapidity. BBNG take one of Blake’s early masterpieces and transform it into something even stranger, groovier, and equally atmospheric.

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