Wednesday, 26 January 2011

James Blake - James Blake (Atlas/A&M)

Incase you’ve been living in some form of cave / rock dwelling / panic room and haven’t heard the recent hype around James Blake, allow me to fill you in. He attended the prestigious Latymer School in London whilst recording compositions in his bedroom. After a successful launch of debut 12” ‘Air And Lack Thereof’, along with a cover of Leslie Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’, national radio coverage and a whole lot of blogging ensured that this was the beginning of a blossoming career for the young musician.

The music itself is a combination of minimalist, down tempo, electronic compositions fused with Blake’s delicate and often soulful voice. Frequent use of an auto tuner on Blake’s voice may cause a divided opinion amongst listeners. Personally, I think it works at times and at times it doesn’t. There’s a sadness and a longing in his voice which, when digitalized, particularly on ‘I Never Learnt To Share’, makes me wonder about what the love child of Bon Iver and Daft Punk might sound like.

When Blake isn’t hiding behind an auto tuner, he does have a decent voice. Combined with a shimmering bassline like on ‘Limit To Your Love’, he adds a sensitive quality to an already well delivered song, whilst reinventing it and adding his own emotional touch. ‘Give Me My Month’ uses the depth of Blake’s voice and verges on sounding like Tracey Chapman. Again, a fusion of styles I wouldn’t have expected to find myself enjoying, yet I feel drawn to listen to again.

I think sparse would be an appropriate word to sum up this venture. Tracks such as ‘Lindesfarne 1’ feature no music as such, just Blake with his auto tuner and the occasional ping in the background. Experimental, or just plain mental? Acting as a prelude to ‘Lindesfarne II’, it begins to make a little more sense once a beat is introduced and a few extra layers creep out at us. From the humble ‘Wilhelms Scream’ to the fragile ‘Why Don’t You Call Me’, to the closing acapella led ‘Measurements’, Blake maintains the minimalist, glitch fuelled semi-dub step approach consistently throughout the album whilst managing to create a different emotional response with each track.

This album definitely won’t be to everyone’s liking. What with all the recent hype, anyone would be hard pressed to live up to the relentless expectations of the average avid music fan. It is, however, an honest and bold introduction into what will hopefully evolve into a fuller, more developed sound from the young and talented James Blake. Definitely one to watch.

Words: Neil Phillips

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