Wednesday, 9 February 2011

James Blake - James Blake

A lot has already been said and written about 23 year old producer James Blake. The buzz surrounding the release of the North Londoner's debut album this week has been overwhelming and, you'd have to say, probably over the top. Based on the evidence of three promising EPs in 2010, and a runners-up finish in the BBC Sound of 2011, Blake has been hailed as the new leading light of UK electronic music, and the man to take dubstep to a mainstream audience.

This self-titled album then provides the first real opportunity for many to hear for themselves what the fuss is all about, and to judge. The result of that judging has been mixed, some have proclaimed that the hype was justified, that a new star has been born, while others have call the album a disappointment, another false dawn. The truth, predictably, lies somewhere in between.

High Points

The opening track Unluck is a sparse, ambient mood-setter, not a high point necessarily, but it does enough, even in its first few seconds, for you to know that this is a proper record.

The first highlight is The Wilhelm Scream, named after a famous Hollywood sound effect, a cry of anguish that has echoed down through six decades, on over 200 movies. Blake sounds equally troubled as he intones lines like "I don't know about my love any more / All that I know is I'm falling, falling, falling" over quietly humming synths and stuttering beats.

I Never Learnt to Share is slow building dance track the last 90 seconds of which are the most exhilarating on the album. For some reason it makes me think of a melacholic English version of LCD Soundsystem. On the other hand, the Feist cover Limit to Your Love is all about the jazzy-lounge piano, and Blake's impressively soulful voice.

The Verdict

In the end the high expectations placed on James Blake's young shoulders seem to have been proved, not wrong exactly, but wide of the mark. This is a highly experimental album, it defies genre. It certainly doesn't sound like dubstep to me, although to paraphrase Eric Morecambe, all the right elements are there, but not necessarily in the right places.

I'm not sure either that Blake is necessarily destined for greater things as an artist. More likely I can see collaborations and production work becoming his main focus, allowing him to tinker around with sounds in different genres and styles without getting bogged down in the celebrity-hype game.

Final Score: 81%

James Blake

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