Release Date: Apr 9, 2013
Record label: Polydor
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
On his 2011 debut, James Blake was a bedroom beat maestro with soul-singer ambitions: a composer of beautiful, somewhat blurry songlets that were spangled with dubstep bass groans and glitchy electronics. His new album marks a shift: Blake has toned down the twitchiness and concentrated on the tunes. "Retrograde" is a surging torch ballad; "Our Love Comes Back" is a shuddering plea for rekindled romance.
Review Summary: When I see the pictures of every life and the day they die / It's your image burnt into my mindWhen "Retrograde" was released in February as the first single from Overgrown it came as a welcome shock to fans and critics alike. Not only was the video artful in its juxtaposition of an asteroid impact with the longing conveyed, but it also redefined our expectations of James Blake. Taking a page from How To Dress Well's book of production techniques (a common trend lately), Blake eschewed the pervading future garage style of his self-titled debut in favor of a more intimate, yet simplified atmosphere.
Will James Blake ever escape the hype? If he keeps living up to it, does it matter? The London producer who first started making noise as a dubstep artist opened himself up to a new audience with his self-titled LP in 2011, a melancholic, minimalist work that saw Blake feature his voice prominently for the first time, ignore the “rules” of pop and other genres, and maybe squeeze a tear or two out of the listener while he was at it. It was a stunner, one that came out of nowhere, has not been replicated, and whose biggest flaws, that many songs sounded like deconstructionist sketches more than full songs, that production overtook songwriting, made it all the more worthy of analytical attention. Each song became an entity of its own, a riff on an idea whose use of repetition, silence, and dynamics put Blake at the front of the line for the never-claimed crown to be awarded to electronic music’s neoclassicist.
With his 2011 debut full-length, dubstep-via-fractured R&B producer James Blake delivered on the promise of his earlier singles while at the same time overhauling his sound, moving away somewhat from the sample-heavy dubstep of those tracks to a sparser atmosphere. The album focused more on Blake's equally haunted piano and vocal lines, submerged elements of implied rhythms, dubstep's subsonic bass resonance, and ghostly samples to create a picture of restraint and contained emotional upheaval. The album felt not so much like the calm before the storm, but like silently watching a hurricane slowly and soundlessly move closer from the distance.
On his self-titled debut in 2011, James Blake's toes hung over a cliff. He'd been one of the best producers in dubstep's late-decade mutation, but had mostly distanced himself from that sound by the time his album dropped. On each new single, the low frequencies subsided and the melodies grew prettier, with Blake's otherworldly baritone increasingly carrying the tune in place of the mangled samples his peers still favored.At the time, James Blake seemed like the young producer's endgame, a space where he could sing songs while wobbling with the best of them.
James Blake’s self-titled 2011 debut album was perhaps one of the strangest records to be given such an overt major label push into the musical mainstream. Its oblique leanings and experimental electronica were suggestive of an auteur like artist rather than someone who was ever going to perform at the Brit Awards. Nevertheless, his debut was relatively successful and a mystique has built around him.
James BlakeOvergrown[ATLAS / Republic Records; 2013]By Brendan Frank; April 9, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetFour years on from his first single “Air & Lack Thereof,” we still don’t know exactly what kind of artist James Blake is turning into. Carving unconventional paths through post-dubstep, R&B, gospel, soul, and a few other genres besides, he has never stayed still long enough to really plant his feet. The constant has been his measured transition from mixing board to microphone.
JAMES BLAKE plays the Danforth Music Hall May 4. See listings. Rating: NNNN While his 2011 self-titled debut made a massive impact, James Blake's songs were criticized for, well, barely being songs. Many were just a fragment of a sentence mournfully unfolding over starkly skeletal rhythms and torch-song piano chords.
In a well-publicized late 2011 interview, James Blake drew his line in the sand on the Great Dubstep Debates. The boy who fell for the emotional resonance of bone-disintegrating sub-bass only after years of playing piano privately came out against the American version of guys like Skrillex (whom he couldn’t even be bothered naming). Such performers, Blake contended, appealed strictly to a “testosterone-driven, frat-boy market” that couldn’t be more different from the Feist-and-Joni covers and Bon Iver duets pouring out of the Londoner who’d just turned 23.
There was a time, before the melancholy of his self-titled 2011 debut album, when James Blake dealt in the sort of ribcage-rattling bass music that made the walls of basement raves shudder and quake. These days the 24-year-old Londoner leans more towards sobering Joni Mitchell confessionals that spiral around soulful caresses of piano and icy echoes of electronics. This is an evolution that won him Brit and Mercury nods and admirable album sales – 40,000 and counting – but also criticism from the underground club scene he rose from for being too serious and mopey.Whatever your take on Blake – who has become one of the most divisive British indie artists around – there’s no ignoring how inventive his sound is.
Matching his own mewling vocals with one of the deepest, most bass-heavy takes on bedroom electronica yet produced, James Blake's self-titled debut made a profound impression. Somehow, the London artist ventured even further into the abyss with a pair of EPs that burdened the heady emotionalism of ostensible torch songs like “A Case of You” with an even heavier sense of wistful sadness. Blake continues plumbing the depths on Overgrown, an album of depressing doom ballads with a decidedly hopeful slant, which intensifies his sound while distorting its specific outlines.
From the musician who aggregated prestige by overhauling the shades of dubstep comes a sophomore full-length that examines the boundaries of pop and soul through his own refracted prism of ingenuity. The formula James Blake subsumed on his 2011 self-titled debut allowed him to consider sonic provinces that ran deeper than any of his earlier, sample-heavy experimentation, and his music sounded more emotionally engaging as a consequence. Although his first LP sparkled incessantly with opulent treatments, loops, cuts, and keys — on “To Care (Like You)” and “I Mind,” in particular — there were also some spectacular moments when the London artist’s dexterity on piano outshone any electronic production (I’m thinking of “Give Me My Month” here).
Never judge a thing by its cover they say, but man alive sometimes that’s tough. Here’s one of those times, with every attempt to approach Overgrown objectively marred by convulsive, fevered flashbacks to its original artwork - the subject of derision and mirth and horror ever since its February reveal. Once seen it’s impossible to repress, a sexless marriage between a French Connection menswear campaign and the crayoned idealism of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower magazine: for days I was hoping it was an Onion parody, or some terrible collective hallucination.
It seems that James Blake is still in a bit of a funk. His latest effort, Overgrown, rarely pulls out of its state of cloudy despondence, the 24 year-old producer-cum-songwriter instead demonstrating a sensitivity to subtle changes in a single hue, mood, and tenor..
Listeners wondering how London’s James Blake moved from the subtly boundary-pushing dubstep of his first three EPs to the comparably straightforward, R&B-laden singer-songwriter material of 2011’s James Blake, his wildly acclaimed debut LP (and the sold-out international tours that followed), should look to a single song for their answer. Performed for a BBC Radio 1 session to coincide with his album’s release, Blake’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” shows the then-21-year-old’s hand—or hands, really, as his flourishes on the solo piano venture sound out his virtuoso talents on the keys. In what would become the signature move of his self-titled collection of songs, Blake fills the track with an almost equal amount of silence from his piano, letting notes ring and fade out into silence, as if the instrument were tossing and turning in halfsleep for the three-minute take.
James Blake drew a fair amount of criticism when he eschewed the dub-y, uptempo nature of his 2010 EPs for his languid, more verse-/chorus-based debut LP in 2011. Two years later, the shift is far less dramatic, but Blake finds himself moving further into traditional songwriting territory after his father reminded him that his two biggest hits — "The Wilhelm Scream" and "Limit to Your Love," penned by his dad and Feist, respectively — were written by others. Blake purportedly focused on his songwriting, inspired by a new relationship and the distance of non-stop touring, and the result is the lush Overgrown.
For his sake—and for ours—it’s time to reassess James Blake. After being pronounced a genius on the strength of two prodigious singles across a pair of 2010 EPs, Blake released his self-titled debut to reactions at partisan extremes, with over-invested listeners exaggerating his talents and skeptics tearing down a very good voice and piano-driven album for failing to be a bolt of scorching brilliance. “I don’t want to be a star/ or a stone on the shore” Blake sings on the lead and title track to his sophomore LP, Overgrown, the line reading so obvious it’s tempting not to take it at face value.
As album number two begins to trickles in, it seems little has changed since James Blake's first, eponymous album joined the dots between dubstep and Nick Drake. The London producer with the voice like a bruise remains perennially inconsolable here. On painterly soul tracks such as DLM, the clock is always stuck at 4am; the aim: going one more desolate than the xx.
Casey Crescenzo has recorded four full-length albums as The Dear Hunter (three of which are the first half in a planned six-part series), as well as a novel based on the albums’ mythology. His latest album, Migrant, stands alone. It’s Crescenzo’s first time working outside of the structure of a concept album and while it reaches the grandiosity of his previous releases, the results are uneven.
It’s hard to fathom James Blake’s meteoric rise. From former music student and dubstep outsider through to full-blown singer-songwriter/arranger, and now added to that the role of soul singer. While his early work was fragmentary – a sort of patchwork quilt of artists like Burial and Mount Kimbie, Wu-Tang Clan and Prince – the succession of releases in 2010 suggested a rapid learning curve.
By now it might be common knowledge that James Blake is a musician that demands a certain amount of attention. After a brief spell of recording music under his erstwhile moniker, Harmonimix, and releasing numerous EPs and singles under his own name, Blake released his self-titled debut to well-earned praise. Minimal and unique, it was what dubstep wished it could be, with Blake showcasing a deft hand at composition, harmonies and above all, musicianship.
When James Blake released his self-titled album in 2011, revealing a sound that simultaneously drew on and abandoned his dubstep roots, there was a tendency to call his record “of the moment.” The implication was that Blake foresaw the decline of dubstep as an organic, innovative genre and, as a result, decided to explore new sonic territory. This opportunist take on Blake's career trajectory was a way of making sense of his rapid switch from grimey, snapping production to vocal compositions that worked with soulful textures, slow-moving rhythms, and pockets of silence. Yet, after listening to Overgrown, there is a stronger case to be made that Blake simply gets bored easily.
2010 was a perfect year for an artist like James Blake to emerge. With dubstep lurking around every corner in its most bombastic form, Blake swept in with sparser electronics, nary an aggressive wub in sight, and fell into a category all his own, deemed “post-dubstep,” for better or for worse. This different approach, coupled with his smooth, R&B-influenced voice, led to a self-titled debut in 2011 that felt fresh to some, puzzling and too stripped-down to others.
You get the distinct impression that James Blake believes in space. Not in the great dark expanse which hangs overhead, but the thing which no one can now afford in London. Because ‘Overgrown’ sounds vast. The songs on it are gaping, echoing caverns, something that is exaggerated by the fact that Blake often chooses to put very little in them.If ‘Overgrown’ was a house, yesterday’s pants would not be on the bedroom floor.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, James Blake - when speaking of the mainstream music industry he seems to have made some Faustian pact with - said "I'm starting not to care, to be honest. Things are changing. The ship isn't just going down. There are people trapped inside, bashing on the windows trying to get out." Although he was presumably talking about the people working behind the scenes in A&R, marketing, accounts and whatever other segments of the sinking industry are waiting to be thrown overboard in a futile attempt to keep the creaking vessel afloat, on listening to Overgrown, it seems almost as likely that he was talking about himself.