James Blake – James Blake

 

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James Blake created quite a bit of buzz following three successful Ep’s full of spliced and diced vocal hooks, dubstep influenced sounds and electronic goodness. This, his first foray into the long play format took many by surprise, and tended to split the fan base right down the middle. I have always found that albums that divide a fan base tend to resonate well with me, whether I was a fan before or not. In this case I was not a massive fan of Blake apart from the incredible track CMYK – “Look I found her, DAMN” yes it is a mad catchy hook and something that makes you look real cool listening to while driving. The question was whether his debut LP would impress me at all, regardless of its sound. It has.

The response from fans (I will disregard the critics for now) was largely divided between the “omg where are the crazy beats” or “how can an artist go from something so dense to something so dull?“. These qualms with Blake’s sound on this record are genuine concerns – well, at least would be if Blake wasn’t so damn good at what he does. Blake’s minimal approach to his craft was toyed with ever so softly in his previous EP’s but this time around he takes it to the extreme. What this does is create an extremely intimate and touching collection of songs that feel as personal as an old photograph, only in music form.

Blake opens the album with Unlock, a thick thud carries the warm synths and a persistent click hits as Blakes soulful voice croons over a deep wobble. Ascending synth patches rise only to die immediately making room for further Blake vocals which are heavily processed and layered expertly. The expected artificiality of his voice due to these effects never arrives as he remains human in all aspects of voice and emotion. Wilhelms Scream follows and is a downright stunning track and really highlights the excellent lyricism and vocals of Blake as he meditates on the lines,

I don’t know about my dreams, I don’t know about my…dreamin anymore, all that I know is I’m falling, falling, falling, falling……might as well fall in.

Delivering painfully severe lyrics, Blake displays shades of desperation to come out of whatever is holding him down but at the same time accepting that he just has to let it get the better of him. The music pairs together with this hopelessness rising at an alarming rate to cascade at the end and fall just as Blake does in his dreams. The first three tracks are extremely solid but Blake doesn’t show his true experimentation till Lindesfarne I and II, the former being an entirely a capella auto-tuned and layered foray ala Bon Iver and on Blood Bank, the latter an extension of this theme with acoustic guitar, minimal percussion and a veritable choir of voices.

Shades of Antony Hegarty can be found on tracks Give Me My Month and Why Don’t You Call Me as Blake handles complex vocals with ease, combining them with spliced piano, hiss and vocals that drop a few octaves measuring a wonderful harmony to his soundscapes. Blake closes his monster of a record with Measurements, transporting you to a one-man gospel number, multi-tracked vocals rise and fall with soulful release over a bouncing synth – only to break off on their own and croon the closing moments of this wonderful album. Blake chose to take a leap of faith with this record, something tells me he knew some people would not enjoy this, something also tells me he knew he was on to something very special – and I can only thank him for believing in himself and taking that leap of faith.

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