Release Date: Mar 22, 2011
Record label: Universal Republic
Genre(s): Electronic, Dubstep
James Blake is really imprisoning me, and seemingly the entire blogosphere, at the moment. It’s been a while since an artist has garnered this much hype before the release of any proper LP. The guy has barely even performed live for god’s sake (though he is the live vocalist for Mount Kimbie). For many, however, the London producer’s three 2010 EPs and forthcoming debut LP have been on repeat for a while, and justly so.
During the last week of 2008, Animal Collective fans began declaring the band’s eighth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, the best of 2009 — before the year had even begun. It had leaked, of course, like so many records had in the past decade. But it was perhaps the first time the internet’s rogue distribution system allowed for this particular phenomenon: the ability to hear and canonize an album even before the calendar year of its release.
Click to listen to James Blake's "Limit To Your Love," "Wilhelm Scream," "I Never Learnt To Share" and "I Mind" U.K. dance music subgenres don't usually produce soulful singer-songwriters – there was no Marvin Gaye of grime, no Bill Withers of Balearic house. But in James Blake, the squish-grooved London club throb called dubstep just got its very own emotive song stylist.
Last year, Flying Lotus—a similarly genre-stomping electronic artist—released his breakthrough Cosmogramma and declared that he was finally able to make the music he’d always wanted to make. His talent, ladies and gentlemen, had caught up with his imagination. James Blake is that kind of album for its creator. With not a sound wasted, James Blake is everything we wanted James Blake to make.
The new artist hype machine is a very powerful force, but it’s difficult to remember a time it’s gone into overdrive in such a way like it has with London-based producer James Blake over the last few months..
In January, Portishead founder Geoff Barrow took to Twitter to snip at James Blake. "Will this decade be remembered as the Dubstep meets pub singer years?" he asked, not naming the 22-year-old producer who, only that morning, was highlighted in the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll. When dubstep boomed and shuddered from Croydon at the dawn of the last decade, Blake wasn't yet a teenager.
British dubstep-minimalist artist, James Blake, has brought his unique sound Stateside with the release of his self-titled debut album. His trio of 2010 EPs—Klavierwerke, CMYK and The Bells Sketch—garnered so much attention that Blake was named runner-up for BBC’s Sound of 2011, which highlights buzzworthy up-and-coming artists. With a stripped-down, uncluttered sound, Blake’s creations are hauntingly beautiful.
For the first time in months, Lady Gaga is dominating the American music press because of something she sang rather than something she wore. Sort of. Her “Born This Way” is a booming musical meat dress: What justifies its demand on your attention is how insistently it demands your attention, and in that sense, it’s the type of pop spectacle which Gaga has perfected.
Dubstep is plenty of things these days, a vastly mushrooming nomenclature that broaches the periphery of nearly all dance genres, and even occasionally links to headphone jams that are less adherent to club sensibilities. Despite dubstep’s broad reach, James Blake is not a dubstep album. Please forgive the myriad critics usually trafficking in rock records who will refer to it as such, and also excuse the author himself, who speaks defiantly of being down with the scene, boasting of his transformative experiences at FWD>> and DMZ.
Earlier this month, James Blake released his cover version of Leslie Feist's 2007 album track Limit to Your Love. It couldn't have wished for more support. He had already released a string of singles on tiny independents, but this one had major-label muscle behind it: where once Blake's singles shared space on the release schedules with Claptrap by Joe, Blimey by Ramadanman and Untold's No One Likes a Smart Arse, now he found himself the labelmate of Welsh MOR songbird Duffy.
During 2009 and 2010, James Blake issued a clutch of abstract dubstep singles on Hemlock, Hessle Audio, and R&S. Each release increased anticipation for the producer’s next move as he continually shuffled the deck on his bristly, off-center, and generally groove-less tracks, some of which incorporated vocals -- he sampled Kelis and Aaliyah on “CMYK,” for instance -- or his own voice, heavily processed. The Klavierwerke EP, the last in the series, was the most stripped down of the bunch.
Even now, seasoned hype-watchers may feel entitled to ask: who the hell is [a]James Blake[/a]? During the course of a whirlwind 18-month rise to fame, the 21-year-old producer has been branded dubstep ninja, Brit School pseud, emo pub singer and high priest of cerebral, modernist pop almost all in the same breath. The cocky bastard’s been the new [a]Joy Orbison[/a], [a]Burial[/a] and [a]The xx[/a] (the latter of whom Blake says have been “keeping the seat warm” for him in terms of carving out space in the mainstream for a studiedly minimal aesthetic). Still, you have to hand it to him.
Without any corroborating evidence, it would be out of order to suggest that the debut album by James Blake has arrived hurriedly. The party line is that he spent most of 2010 composing it, a cult of production-personality building all the while as EPs were intermittently issued. Nevertheless, it’s only 18 months since his debut single, released by the laudable bass-music hybridist Untold on his Hemlock imprint; James Blake, meanwhile, is bankrolled by A&M (of which Atlas is a sublabel).
James Blake English musician James Blake's fascination with entwined genres comes to a dramatic head on his cover of Feist's Limit To Your Love, which begins as an acoustic piano ballad before unravelling into stark, body-quaking electronic minimalism. Unfortunately it's also the only instance on his debut LP when the lyrics match the music's visceral appeal. Blake's songs are built around a single typically melancholic lyric and melody that he works over, kind of like an R&B singer, while gradually switching stylistic gears.
At its best, Blake’s debut is boundary breaking in its vision. Natalie Shaw 2011 Since James Blake’s breakout remix of Untold’s Stop What You’re Doing in late 2009 – which saw him twist up the original with beats taken beyond the pale – he’s pushed his artistic limits beyond recognition. A blinding 12-month period saw him birth three groundbreaking EPs (The Bells Sketch, CMYK and Klavierwerke), drawing on electronic music, UK bass, commercial RnB, gospel and ambient.
Nine months before James Blake's eponymous release came out, the then-21-year-old British producer dropped "CMYK," a pulsating banger that repurposed dubstep with a clever sampling of Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?." Thus was forged a new subgenre of dubstep, with Blake almost saving its predecessor from mainstream blah-dom in the process. His full-length arrives decidedly sleepier and conceptually half-baked. He drastically drops the tempo ("Give Me My Month"), cuts the samples, and fills dreamlike tracks with his own quasi-Auto-Tuned vocals ("Unluck"), but there's little semblance of any fully realized songs.