on 14 November 2012
Living in a time where the music consumer can comfortably access and listen to any artist he or she chooses, past or present, I think there's an onus like no other on this generation of new artists to produce music that's truly distinctive. Whether James Blake conciously understands this or not is debatable, however the uniqueness of his self titled debut is certainly not up for questioning. The computerized experimentalism of Blake's highly acclaimed slew of 2010 ep's, already saw him crafting a unique lane for himself yet he upped the anti on this eponymous release by moving away from the laptop somewhat, to present his elegiac choir-esque singing voice as the main selling point here. Not since Kid A has an artist been able to match emotive balladeering and forward thinking electronica as successsfully as James Blake does here, his songs each one brilliant in their own right, are equal parts challenging and emotionally provocative.
The soulful sound of Blakes ineffable vocals were heard permeating over spartan piano chords and glacial snare snaps when his version of Feist's "Limit To Your Love" dropped before the release of this album and I (perhaps like many) thought that the excellence of that track would dwarf any songs that sat beside it on a full length LP. "Unluck" quickly sweeps away any pessismistic doubts you may of had, with it's enchanting array of quicksilver clicks, mmanipulated synths and multi layered vocals coming together to mesmerizing effect. Although James Blake uses vocoder and autotune in this opener, the humanity in "Unluck" somehow remains completely intact, it's as though JB has unlocked the dormant power lieing in machines to enhance our voice's ability to convey sadness and despondancy.
"The Wihelm Scream" is the real jewel in the crown here though, it starts off sparsely with muted synths, lonely snare hits and touches of watery music concrete beofre transforming into a blaze of cathartic post-dubstep with the simple lines "I don't know about my love, all that I know is i'm falling falling falling, might as well fall in" looped throughout the songs duration adding an extra level of pathos. "Lindasfarne I" is another snapshot of pure beauty, with James blake's vocodered upper register vocals reminscent of Bon Iver on "Woods", Blake doesn't aim for heavenly transcendence like that track though, he put's much more of a focus on delicacy and ambience to achieve a strong sense of intimacy and calmness.
Although the back half of this album isn't filled with as many obvious highlights, blakes crooning is largely front and centre from "Give me my Month" onwards and it's a delight to hear his untreated voice and his minimal piano playing without as many embellishments as he really plays and sings so well. Some have taken issue with James Blakes mantra of less is more here and even though i'm patently a huge fan of this record I could understand why adrenalin junkies would consider this LP a remedy for insomnia. Nevertheless; Fans of Steve Reich, sufjan Stevens or The XX will doubtlessly be "as in love with this as I am" and should most definitely check this out if they happened to miss it upon it's release almost two years ago.
on 8 February 2011
I love it when reviews vary. Two days old, and it's already either 'hugely disappointing' or 'a brilliant debut'. I'm with the latter on this. I think this album is a gem.
I became aware of James Blake through Klavierwerke, which kind of insinuated itself into my consciousness. Not this. It's been absolutely instant, and I can't stop listening to it.
The overall sound is tremendous - in the same territory perhaps as Burial's Untrue. Blake's voice evokes, when untreated, Antony Hegarty, Justin Vernon, and of course Al Green. Simple phrases are repeated, heightening their impact, and the tunes are delicately accompanied by a range of keyboards, from smoky blues piano to electronica which, through their faltering, sometimes almost sobbing sounds, heighten the emotion even further. Styles range from heartbreaking soul to uplifting gospel. And there's even a hint of prog rock about the keyboards: some Nice piano noodling, some ELP synth squealings. Bizarre and intriguing.
Listening to this album is, for me, a raw and intense experience. Even the quiet bits. It's like eavesdropping on someone's innermost thoughts; hopes, fears, doubts, weaknesses. Picking up on misunderstandings and broken relationships. Yet it is so beautiful, so self aware, so laden with love, how could everything not turn out ok in the end?
TWO WEEKS LATER
The review situation is still fascinating. Those who low star it can be broken down into two types. 1. Those who have heard his previous dubstep material and are disappointed by this more soul-based album. 2. Those who like Limit to Your Love and/or The Wilhelm Scream and are disappointed it isn't all like that.
For me, the album just gets better and better. I wonder how many of the negative reviewers simply stated their case a little too early. It is a real grower. Loved the review that said it made her head feel as though it was full of metal shavings. Absolutely! Though anyone who uses the term Emperor's New Clothes - the lazy catch-all dismissal for anything someone doesn't get - should be banished to cliche hell.
Someone, can't remember who, mentioned Gonjasufi - though the reference now seems to have been removed. I checked it out, and love it, so thanks for that, whoever you are. I'd contend, however, it's possible to love that and James Blake's remarkable album.
on 18 December 2011
Released to much hype at the time, and in the process of being nominated for a Mercury prize, Blake's eponymous debut is his signature sound distilled to its absolute essence, in a collection of ambient, melancholy dubstep far removed from more commercial exponents of the genre such as Skream or Caspa. Though they mainly use rather different musical palates to express themselves, the mood of the album tends toward the isolationist, introspective 2-step of enigmatic producer Burial, himself nominated for a Mercury in 2007.
Stripping down the music even further from the already sparse textures of his CMYK and Klavierwerke EPs, most of the tracks are built on pianos set alongside soft ambient loops, undercut by the distinctive half-time drumbeat that the genre is well known for. However, tracks like 'Lindisfarne I' take this minimalist approach to the extreme, relying almost entirely on Blake's layered and treated vocals - a gambit that's not entirely successful when combined with oft-meandering song structures and vague lyrics bordering on the equivocal. Too frequently, as on album closer 'Measurements', or the aimless cut-up 'Why Don't You Call Me', the songs lose their sense of direction and grounding, simply being content to drift, albeit pleasantly, to understated conclusions.
Despite these compositional flaws, when Blake works within more song-oriented strictures, his somewhat unique sound can reap stunning results. On the Feist cover 'Limit To Your Love', nimble piano riffs and an untreated, cracked vocal combine to subtle yet devastating effect, before dropping out to be replaced with shuddering sub-bass and metronomic drums, only Blake's isolated, lonely vocals remaining. Alongside 'The Wilhelm Scream', with it's beautifully rising melody and soft, jazzy backing, 'Limit To Your Love' represents the most pop-minded, and perhaps not coincidentally, most effective moment on the album. Having said that, equally worthy of note is 'I Never Learnt To Share', whose solitary vocal line grows into a glorious, multi-tracked mesh of voices, before further building to a sawtoothed crescendo of synth and bass - aural proof that Blake is more than capable when working with traditional dubstep elements. Such highlights as these more than make up for the occasional dip in quality later on in the album.
At the end of the day, the album falls under the wing of that old cliche - 'showing potential'. Damming with faint praise that may appear to be, but in this case the potential is merely a hair's breadth away from being realized - If Blake can tighten up his songwriting and expand on his highly distinctive core sound, he could have a long and productive musical career ahead.
on 1 November 2013
james blake's overgrown was the unexpected winner of the 2013 mercury prize
my money was on david bowie's brilliant rebirth
this was his 2011 debut album
still new music is what it's all about
even if this is just another bedroom computer design
at under £6 for 2cds it's worth a punt!
on 30 May 2013
Many of the songs on this album are incredible... Limit to your love's wobbling bass-line just adds to the beauty of the track and the two parts to Lindisfarne are two of my favourites by James Blake.
However, towards the end I felt as if things were beginning to drop a little; it seems he rushed his last few tracks.
So up to about the eighth track on James Blake's eponymous album, I was mesmerised. I wouldn't expect much after that.
On the second disk is his EP, which is beautiful. His cover of A Case Of You is incredible, and so are the others on the side.
I have to give it 5 stars, due to the fact four stars is too harsh: given a wider option, I feel 4.7 would be fair.
Keep listening to it.. if you don't like it the first time, you haven't been able to appreciate his genius yet.
on 8 June 2011
Have been listening to this album on and off for 3 months or so. He had me with Limit to your love, the other tracks have taken longer to sink in, mainly because they are so unusual - mutiliated voices, quirky electronics, off-time beats and silence, all used to intruiging effect. I have gone on to buy the other EPs, all of which I am enjoying.
I went to see him in Manchester last night. He is an accomplished player and performer and gave a great, if a little short, show. Then listened to the whole album on the way home and got it even more strongly. This is interesting music and worth the hard work that the strange, spiky arrangements and compositions present. I can't wait to hear what he does next.
on 9 June 2011
Much of this music lives in the hinterland between melody and silence. There's almost too much silence and not enough music, but in the end the subtle and plaintive melodies win out - just. He's probably a genius, but he could be a used car salesman. I think he's probably a genius.
on 13 November 2013
I bought this together with Overgrown I prefer this.What a find this guy is. Very original artist and part of a coming new wave af British talent.Well done James
James Blake is a precocious talent and arrived with a large splash following his stunning cover of Feist's beautifully elegiac "Limit to your love" included here in all its slow burning glory. As an artist he is a disciple of the "less is more" school with this debut album characterized by a predominant sparsity in certain songs often stripping out layers of instrumentation in favour of voice, bass loops and synth (and in the case of Lindisfarne 1 a straight vocoderised acappella)
The album soulful opener "Unluck" does remind of Bon Iver's "Woods" from last years "Blood Bank EP" with its use of vocoder style vocals but ultimately differs with its deep clicks and an minimalist intensity. It is followed by "Wilhelm's scream" a song that has been distributed freely on music blogs and one that has spent so much time on my PC speakers it could claim squatting rights. The huge debt, which Blake owes to dubstep, is revealed and builds to a digital intensity around the continual refrain of the lines "I don't know about my love anymore/all I know is I'm falling". This should be the starting point for the curious listener. "I never learned to share" is again based around a repetitive lyric but with all sort of electronic shenanigans going on in the background almost suggesting a church like ambience.
Blake's debut is often an introspective and moody piece of work, which can make The XX look like the Beach Boys in the fun stakes. But this is not a criticism; with some songs drifting along at a snails pace it can lead you to think that they may have finished, yet it gives the album a Sinatra like "wee small hours" quality. This will mean that Blake's debut will primarily be a late night feast. It is an album, which evolves through its slow revealing beats, and has a deeply intricate core based around sonic landscapes and truly extraordinary songs. The glacial "To care (like you)" is a duet that feels that Blake is just about keeping the ball rolling. Yet with its beautiful quivering auto tuning and double micro beats it is a stellar highlight. The debt to Bon Iver re-emerges on the albums closer "Measurements" and it is a testimony to the youthful brilliance of Blake that he can evoke the atmosphere of 2008s best album "For Emma" and yet carve out a distinctive niche, which solely belongs to him. The liquidly percussive loops of Lindisfarne 2 could seem repetitive to some but sit down and really listen to its underpinning beauty.
Blake has been criticized in some quarters as the acceptable face of dubstep, yet as someone who loved and reviewed one of 2010 best albums Scuba's "Triangulation" an LP of Berlin influenced beats, I would argue that the genre is big enough to have many strings to its bow. There are also echoes here of great artists particularly Justin Vernon but also Lewis Taylor, David Sylvain, Anthony Hegarty, Burial and Panthu de Prince (the towering "I mind" would have sat beautifully on his recent "Black Noise" album"). I wager that Blake's debut will be a true Marmite album loved by some despised by others, thus a warning - if you seek music pumped full of adrenalin and sweaty excitement avoid this like the plague. On the other hand if you want an album by an artist taking on board and developing a range of influences, trying to do something different with them and largely succeeding then this if for you. Blake has created a template for new music in 2011 with this startling debut and for once the BBC New Year predictions turn out to bang on.
on 8 July 2011
This is very unusaul. But after i gave it a try i am very positivly. Actually i am not sure what it is that is so magic about this but it definitely is. From what angle you see it (if you like it or not) it is clear that this is not any just together pieced art it has a lot of work in it, you can hear it in every beat. If you like slow electro, minimal, soul, this is your album. give it a try!