Buried somewhere deep in the mass textural conglomerate of post-2010 R&B come-ups is the “less is more” mantra of minimalist vocalists. In that world, there are no synths shaken so hard you can’t tell one from the other; no mangled layers of vocal harmonies; no production that’s so busily layered it makes your head spin. It’s a space where simple tweaks serve to prop up an already on-point vocal melody. In that realm lies 19-year-old producer Alex Fleming, aka Black Atlass. He’s been called the anti-Justin Bieber, which seems inaccurate, because even one listen to Young Bloods will prove Fleming too refreshing to be the antithesis of anything. The EP finds Fleming looking back a decade, picking up where ’90s R&B left off and tweaking that minimalism with his own cheeky Millenial flairs.
Young Bloods is Fleming’s first effort for tastemaker label Fool’s Gold, and since 2012′s Black Atlass EP, Fleming has further narrowed his strengths and shed any self-doubting excess. Album standout Free Angel pairs together half-agitated clack-thonks with howling samples and gasping vocals from somewhere deep in Fleming’s stomach. Rapper XXX shows up in the track, basking in a Drake-style flow for a sonic kick-back. The Rose drops the mood as the tempo rises, juxtaposing Fleming’s out-of-breath vocals with cut-up stabs of agitated synths. A little pitch-shifting vocal play near the end doesn’t hurt either.
If anything blends into the background on the brief Young Bloods it’s the title track. Young Bloods is dynamic and simple—it’s good, but lacks the ear-worming staying power when it shares space with the metallic, stomach-clenching clamp of Blossom and the mosquito-buzzed dub revamp of Burning Man. Blossom stands out with its completely hypnotic beat-steps; “Burning Man” pairs squeaky-toy plops against synths that fade in and out disconcertingly, before collapsing into crushed reverb for XXX, who raps about someone forgetting his birthday.
The EP’s final track, Jewels, is appropriately faded, allowing the listener a sonic cool down from the five previous songs. It starts with a hesitant, hollow ticking that follows through with slight additions, putting the pressure on Fleming to make us listen. And he delivers. Plus, as the longest song on the EP, Jewels acts as an expansive and meditative reminder that Fleming doesn’t need much to catapult him into the consciousness of the music-consuming populace. Maybe even to Bieber status.