At nearly two hours, Maya Jane Coles’ Take Flight demands time and commitment from her listeners, and offers an escape in return. The album’s title functions as words of encouragement, with the music itself acting as provocation to follow Coles along into the dense and thrilling world she’s created.
The album is the long-awaited follow up to her 2013 debut album Comfort, which drew particular attention for its quality, oh and the fact that she wrote, produced, arranged, mixed, engineered and released everything herself. Coles circled the globe many times over to support the album, and when she’d returned to recording in 2015 she did so by issuing a debut album from her dubstep side project, Nocturnal Sunshine.
So Take Flight has been a long time coming, and in a sense it feels like Coles is offering such a substantive sophomore record to make up for the time between albums, but it also feels like the length is much more purposeful than just serving as a way to placate patient fans.
Opening track “Won’t Let You Down” reinforces the idea established by the album’s title that Coles intends to take the listener on a kind of journey. On it, Coles repeats the song title, asking for the listener’s trust over a persistent machine-like beat. The reason for that journey is revealed deeper into the album, on the title track “Take Flight,” where she describes “a secret place we can hide until daylight.” In the context of an immersive, twenty-four song double album, it seems as though she’s suggesting her music, and electronic music more broadly, can be that place.
Looking at the album artwork, which was designed by Coles, it’s apparent why the need for an escape is necessary. The drawing features a character that is literally being consumed by their own thoughts.
The world of electronic music is markedly different in 2017 than the one Coles broke into in 2010, when she first caught the attention of clubs everywhere with the hit, “What They Say” (which reached even further acclaim after it was sampled on Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter” in 2015). The community was rocked in 2016 after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, which threw into question the safety of clubs as spaces where marginalized folks could gather, free from the fear of violence.
That spectre now haunts the scene, and it’s not a stretch to think that it’s the very same consuming darkness that we see on Take Flight’s album sleeve. In fact, the album’s latter half features a song called “Pulse.” It’s a dancey, mostly wordless song save for the repeated lyric, “no turning back now.” The message is clear: Pulse was a defining moment in electronic music history, and the culture has no choice but to move forward, even though the weight of that tragedy will continue to be felt.
It’s with that tragedy in mind that the escape this album offers is most powerful: Coles has created a love letter to electronic music that reminds people the power of this music hasn’t waned. It’s a proof-of-concept record, the specter of Pulse that haunts dance music makes the need to escape all the more vital and necessary.
Here Coles has provided an immersive experience in that the record occupies a sizable chunk of time, while it also encompasses a continuum of styles, from house to trip hop. “Weak” is an intricate, bass-heavy ode to the way your heart drops into the pit of your stomach when you fall in love. “Go On And Make It Through” sounds like a proper house throwback, while the title track that follows is more of a cerebral trip hop number with a glimmering synth seam holding it all together.
These disparate sounds flow effortlessly into one another, presenting electronic music on a continuum. With Coles controlling every aspect of her project, there’s a consistency to it, despite its daunting size and scope.
The result is a comment on electronic music itself: Maya Jane Coles has given us something to get lost in again.