REVIEW: James Blake – James Blake
2010 brought the London-based beatmaker James Blake to the fore of Post-Dubstep. The three EPs released, The Bells Sketch/CMYK/Klavierwerke were eye-opening in terms of manipulations and constructions of sound, justly receiving critical acclaim. Blake brought out his single, a cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love”, at the latter end of last year. With it he revealed a sparse sound with a bass that will make you tremble combined with a voice that will make you cry.
It was a revelation for his prior sample and beat-focused sound. His self-titled album, thankfully, follows “Limit To Your Love” maintaining that single’s tone. Blake pushes the unique and peculiar sound of this song into an album that doesn’t disappoint. Over the eleven tracks you are overwhelmed with the creativity and originality that Blake possesses, which many other artists will fail to have.
Comparisons can be easily made with fellow Post-Dubstep luminaries, and occasional collaborators, Mount Kimbie, whose claustrophobic, yet enticing moments on debut album Crooks & Lovers bear resemblance to Blake’s work. He has also personally stated being influenced by Bon Iver, whose saddened, acoustic style coupled with lyrical heartbreak on his album For Emma, Forever Ago is easily identifiable within Blake’s voice and choice of words. However, Blake operates some kind of middle-ground between these two examples and carves his own individualistic style.
As Blake said in a Pitchfork interview, “Song[s] don’t have to be traditional. If you’ve got a strong melody you can package it in whichever way you like and it will hit just as hard.” This is particularly true of his debut that opens with the ominous, tone-setting “Unluck”. Singing ‘…won’t care for me’ Blake constructs a detached and solitary persona that manifests across the album. Even in “To Care (Like You)” where Blake sings alongside an effete-manipulation of his voice, this solemn isolation remains. It’s a repeated motif from his last EPs, especially Klavierwerke.
You cannot help but relate to what appears to be Blake’s depressive state and the beats that he uses to emphasise this mood are particularly fitting for this cold winter. The second track, “Wilhelms Scream”, has Blake delving into the mindset of that famous movie sound effect, singing, “All that I know is I’m falling”, that creates a self-portrait of his own despair but also fittingly profiles the oft-dying or falling soldier from a myriad of films.
Other songs such as “I Never Learnt To Share”, “Give Me My Month” and the two-part autotune epic “Lindisfarne” all excel at showing different aspects of Blake’s songwriting. Whether it be with a more traditional piano-based structure or a stronger focus on electronic elements, Blake shows within this heavily stylised album a diverse range of musicality. Of course, bearing a style that unites the eleven tracks of the album, the diverse elements are never pushed to their extremes and Blake curates a cohesive entity.
It is on “Measurements” that Blake excels himself. Closing the album, this song utilizes a layered choric effect with his voice. The repetition is almost alluring, curiously reminiscent of segments within the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother Where Art Thou”, albeit with lyrics more like an erratic set of words strung together. The stripped back acapella is wonderful, ending with an imbued sense of hope that Blake has constructed solely with his own voice. Every single time the song is played it demands the words be screamed aloud, to join in with Blake’s voice, no matter where the listener may be. However, this isn’t merely an urge, it’s produces an intense sense of wanting to belong, a yearning to join in and be part of this album.
James Blake’s debut is immediately one of the defining albums of 2011. It could easily go on to be the defining album. Even if half of the time listening to it you might want to crawl up into the fetal position and slowly cry yourself to sleep. Yes, this album is melodramatic, but it is also touching and heartfelt; an absorbing album unlike anything before it.
“The Wilhelm Scream” Live @ Maida Vale
“Limit To Your Love”