James Blake - James Blake
So here it is, one of the most-hyped albums set for release this year, and the early-year front-runner for Pitchfork’s album of the year position. I was somewhat familiar with Blake prior to this, I checked out the CMYK and Klavierweirke EP’s from last year, and wasn’t necessarily unimpressed, nor surprised that P4K were getting stoked on it, but I suppose it didn’t make much of a lasting impression, as dubstep as a genre never really has with me (remember Burial’s Untrue? Never really latched on to that either).
I can’t say for sure that it really lives up to all the hype, but I will say that I’m pretty impressed right off the bat. Blake is excellent at crafting an atmosphere, his songs are simultaneously densely layered and sparse, and his brassy baritone croon lends itself to his slow-cooking compositions. It’s like D’Angelo’s Voodoo for post-9/11 white urbanites. The amount of sexuality and involuntary head-nodding Blake whittles out of something so inherently inorganic is staggering, especially on tracks like ‘I Never Learnt to Share” and the stark “Limit to Your Love”. He seamlessly employs autotune with his own unaffected vocals, and creates a space where they can happily co-exist (the influence of Kanye West and western hip-hop in general is palpable here), even in the gospel-esque strains of “Lindesfarne II”, where we also see the appearance of an acoustic guitar. It’s almost a re-imagination of 60’s and 70’s soul music, filtered through the Manchester sound, Kraftwerk and Bon Iver’s excursions into autotune. James Blake definitely has his head in the right places, he smartly pulls the right (and wrong) influences into a melting pot that he can mold into a single cohesive piece that rarely disappoints. Give me one rainy day with this record, and trust me, I’ll be telling you it lives up to the hype. Until then, it’s definitely an engaging, creative and for as different as it sounds in the current landscape, something extremely familiar.