James Blake – James Blake (Album Review)

James Blake – James Blake


A huge sense of expectation preceded the release of young producer/vocalist James Blake’s self-titled debut, one felt along the length and breadth of the independent-to-mainstream spectrum. The BBC named him runner-up in their Sound of 2011 list; everyone from Radio 1 to indie scene radar Pitchfork have been falling over themselves to heap praise on the Londoner’s minimal take on vocalized dubstep; recent shows have sold out early.

Even after putting the hype to one side, it is hard not to be impressed with Blake’s first full-length effort. His building blocks are effective in their simplicity: crisp kicks and snares underpinning layered keys or piano, all coated in multi-tracked, mostly auto-tuned vocal lines. Occasionally ground-shaking bass lines also rumble into view, such as on first single Limit to Your Love. Sometimes the minimalism can be disorientating, like being lost somewhere with such interesting surroundings you don’t really mind; Blake stepping easily through the XX-shaped hole left in the conscience of the mainstream music press.

I Never Learnt to Share finds Blake repeating a single line of regret, harmonizing with himself as he admonishes previous actions towards his brother and sister (he is an only child). The acapella parable of Lindisfarne I invokes King Crimson’s She Shudders, an earlier and more overblown attempt at auto-tune songwriting, while masterful The Wilhelm Scream, with its yearning melody and intense build to a rapturous finale, is a clear standout.

The album’s failings are still notable for accentuating its otherwise inventive and imaginative nature. The piano-balladry of Give me my Month, for example, is pleasant verging on tedious, and by I Mind the affected vocal-heavy productions begin to grate slightly – it is perhaps to Blake’s credit that he curtails the album shortly after. A bonus track, Tep and the Logic, sounds like a remnant from previous EP Klavierwerke; a chance for Blake to show his production skills without disrupting the album’s flow.

The less-is-more concept here is clear and well executed, resulting in a carefully sequenced, successfully realized first attempt. It will be interesting to see where Blake goes from here.

James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream



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