Wednesday, January 4, 2012
James Blake Dubstep Master
2011 debut album from the runner-up in the BBC's 'Sound Of 2011' poll. The London-based Dubstep artist's album reflects his famously eclectic style. Featuring a blend of electronic production and more traditional recording techniques, this fusion is most obvious on Feist cover, 'Limit To Your Love', which is also the album's first single. Blake is heavily influenced by artists such as The XX, and claims their success has made it easier for others to understand his music.
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 such as 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.