James Blake – James Blake Review

I’ll confess that I was more than a little surprised when I heard that James Blake had placed second on the BBC’s sound of 2011 poll. Although based on his superb output last year, releasing no fewer than 3 excellent EP’s of material, it was in no way undeserved. The reason for my surprise is that Blake’s music only rarely flirts with accessibility, creating sparse electronic landscapes that are the logical progression from the kind of things that Burial was doing a few years ago before Dubstep was anywhere near to being a household name. But then can James Blake even be considered as Dubstep.
The first half of the record largely consists of electronic tracks that shudder and twitch through a series of paranoid movements that create a remarkable sense of claustrophobia despite the amount of negative space created by the records inherent minimalism. The middle of the record contains the superb ‘Lindesfarne parts I&II’ which begins solely with Blakes voice through a vocoder and is very reminiscent of Bon Iver’s autotuned track ‘Woods’ (the same track that is sampled at the conclusion of Kanye Wests latest album) and then in the second part adds an acoustic guitar and a touch of drums transitioning the album into a much more relaxed and open space. Immediately following this comes the heavily circulated Feist cover ‘Limit to Your Love’ which starts as a standard piano ballad but then adds a speaker damaging bass line which comes off as abrasive following the mellow track that precedes it.  This is one of many subtle moments where the importance in the sequencing of the album is shown to be of the utmost importance as Blake is able to maintain absolute control over the listener through his attention to dynamics.
The latter section of the album is made up of piano ballads with minimal vocal or instrumental distortions that although initially come off as being unremarkable unveil themselves as deep and complex entities that are, in a respect, self-contained from the rest of the record. On the occasions when the vocals are manipulated, it is to raise the pitch of Blakes voice giving it an almost feminine quality giving the illusion that Blake is singing call and response in a duet with himself.
James Blake proves to be a truly remarkable and unique record that is the culmination of the work begun by Thom Yorke and The xx in the way in which it can make minimalism sound vast but is utterly original in the sense that the core of the album seems not to be based around electronica or Dubstep but rather jazz as (pardon the cliché) the sounds that Blake doesn’t make are often more important than the ones he does.
Thanks to the BBC it’s almost inevitable that Blake will be critically lauded throughout the year and it would seem inconceivable that he wouldn’t receive a Mercury nomination at the bare minimum.

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