James Blake - James Blake

Album cover
Alt-Pop, Dubstep, Electronic
Universal Republic
James Blake
James Blake
James Blake - James Blake Review rating:
4
User rating:
Average: 5 (2 votes)

It must have been alright to be the person who invented the wheel. Not so much in the sense that they became wealthy, if there even was any form of currency let alone a monetary system. More so that not only did you get the personal satisfaction of alleviating your own predicament (one would assume wheels were needed for moving something) but you go down in history as a genius of simplicity and utmost importance. A trait utterly underrated yet doubtlessly useful. As the phrase goes: “it is just reinventing the wheel;” often employed in an attempt to describe something as simultaneously forward-thinking yet almost wholly derivative. In truth, the wheel has undergone a wealth of evolution since its initial appearance prompting the irony of the whole statement. So as London minimalist-dub-step-meets-wide-eyed-soul wunderkid James Blake preps for a 2011 that is sure to see his own proverbial journey to the top begin its accelerated ascent. On the back of a number two finish in BBC's “Sound of 2011” short-list and distribution through two major labels—the hype is amassing into a tidal wave.

Blake's abundance of originality and complete lack for the general confines of accepted song structure has been heralded by many as a trait he and all but a select few can lay claim to. In truth the sweeping generalization has its roots in reality, but hyperbole aside Blake hasn't done much more than reinvent the wheel once again. It is just, his wheel is exceptional. The design is borrowed, yes. Yet is more developed--exciting while being sturdy; a piece held together by an intricate design, yet not afraid to show its lack of mass. Simply put: Blake may not in the end have created something independent from any other record in existence—he has however created one pretty separate from most. With an ethereal and at times almost robotic guise juxtaposed against a vocal performance that radiates warmth with its beating heart on full display.

Blake's vocal manipulations may leave him sounding a bit mechanical but James Blake is hardly just an experimentation in auto-tune—the record and Blake's hushed, muli-tracked coos are simply one of the most human displays of emotion you're likely to find on the “new releases” shelf in any year, let alone the present. For all of its futuristic eccentricities though, James Blake is an album so rooted in the contemporary that at times the record comes off as too hip. As though Blake were self-aware to the point of annoyance; thankfully most of the complications that do arise are simply side-stepped by the man's ability to lay down anthemic choruses even though his music is characteristically sparse.

Blake's penchant and talent for playing with silence to manipulate negative-space in what is otherwise a soulful eletro-pop song elevates his music from a mere grab-bag of “name-the-influence” and in turn allows for the album to breathe life into itself—consciously minimalist in every way—yet nothing about James Blake feels forced. He never seems like he's trying to thrust his music under some aesthetic umbrella in hopes to cash in—this music is as such because it is, well, a reflection of Blake himself. The young Londoner not only possesses a distinct croon all his own, but more often than not it is that voice which serves as a crux for a number of songs. Blake and his voice are seemingly oblivious to what's going on around them, yet never seem out of place. He is so in-tune with his music's pacing and structure in fact that a simple sentiment of “My brother and my sister don't speak to me/But I don't blame them” repeated near ad-nauseam on “I Never Learnt To Share” transcends any possible cheese and instead solidifies itself as one of Blake's--and without question the album's--most heart-wrenchingly arresting moments.

Instances like this are littered throughout the record's thirty-eight minute run-time, which in and of itself is impressive enough, but it is just how well Blake's warbling vocals stick with you after the fact that gives the album such unconventional staying power. Once James Blake has had time to bury its claws the record becomes near impossible to forget; the ethereal musicianship eventually is less an aesthetic choice and more an actual ghostly haunting that will be hard pressed into actually giving you some peace. We are in luck though, because as James Blake the man, becomes increasingly harder and harder to hide from, as his velvety tenor turns from seemingly unknown to inescapable and as his “piano works” begin to take on lives of their own—we will always have a single upper hand: as we will, presumably, be trying so hard to hide from James Blake, he has in fact kept himself under a veil this entire time. Yet it is James' gift for negative-manipulation that has garnered him successes—the key factor in his accession from bed-room recorder to “next-big-thing” has been the wealth of emotion he's able to convey in otherwise barren music. Songs like his brilliant cover of Feist's “Limit To Your Love,” “Unluck,” “The Wilhelm Scream” and “To Care (Like You)” are more than mere infectious tunes—they are testaments to the power of silence and the ability of the organic to conquer the synthetic. More importantly are front-runners in a growing list of examples in favor of pop's burgeoning future and the possibility for further evolution.

So again, while Blake and his self-titled debut are essentially just reinventing the wheel—this wheel of theirs, albeit shiny and brand new; possess an air of maturity and experience generally unseen in all but the most hearty of veterans. Yet the sheen this record possesses, the pop-circa-3011 blueprint is far from the creator's design and reads as more of an implied ideal lopped onto James Blake in an effort to make it easier to digest. Yet for all the outcries of emphatic amazement and/or jabs at overall consistency; when considering this album I find that Blake has put it best himself: “I don't know about my dreams/I don't know about my dreaming anymore/All that I know is I'm falling/Falling/Falling/Might as well fall in” Blake divulges to us half-hearted and broken on album standout “The Wilhelm Scream.” His instructions, though probably not crafted in response to his press, are correct all the same. When concerning James Blake the artist and the album: you may find the time to question what it is that you're hearing—give yourself a means by which to find fault or some form of insult—yet why not just fall right in? And considering how easy it is to do just that with James Blake, the question that now arises is: What is taking you so long?

1. Unluck
2. The Wilhelm Scream
3. I Never Learnt To Share
4. Lindesfarne I
5. Lindesfarne II
6. Limit To Your Love
7. Give Me My Month
8. To Care (Like You)
9. Why Don’t You Call Me
10. I Mind
11. Measurements

James Blake is an English electronic musician from London, England. James began his final year at Goldsmiths in September 2009 studying popular music while recording songs in his bedroom. Blake attended The Latymer School and released his debut 12" "Air and Lack Thereof" on Hemlock Audio in July 2009. It was a firm favourite with Gilles Peterson from BBC Radio 1. James was invited to do a special mix on Gilles Peterson's worldwide show which included an exclusive Mount Kimbie track.

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