When the final moment of James Blake’s meteoric rise to fame took place, newspapers, magazines and websites looked back together on five months in which a 22 year old music student from London went from a virtual unknown- a barely featured artist on the national dubstep scene- to the darling of Radio 1, cleared from the shelves, wonder producer. When playing a set on Zane Lowe's Radio 1 show, Lowe treated him like near-messianic pop royalty, inquiring after the album in such a way as it had already set as a classic. Check your local store for CMYK. You won't find it. Then check Ebay. Try and buy a ticket for his upcoming London shows. Then check Ebay. Appetites gorged on opportunities to see and hear him like the first hour of the Sales. Blake saw, or perhaps more accurately, he was seen, and he conquered, beyond all recognition.
Since shedding the petals of a first bloom, James Blake- the LP- picked up the mantle a few days ago from the 2 EPs that clearly spoke to music lovers for much longer than their 15 minute run times. Here the big posturing, media work and endless London Underground adverts really took over. Atlas, owned by Polydor released it in the UK. An expected immediate entry into the UK top 10. Universal in the US. Tours on both sides of the Atlantic. There really is no overstating the change that took place, nor the intensity and focus of our interest.
To that reception, a quiet animal arises. James Blake is a brooding and discordant record such that one would expect a well-known and already seasoned creative artist to make to compliment their work. This is Neil Young jumping straight to the digi-stuff on Trans without years of classic rock and traditional songsmanship. It is ambitious, does away with CMYK and Klavierwerke to a large extent and forgets what everyone might expect James Blake, a young cool producer, to be and sound like. If you’ve already read a review of this album, you have almost certainly seen a comparison with Bon Iver and that is a view I take too. As incomprehensible as it seems, the minimal dubstep of CMYK and piano/vocal combination of Klavierwerke are smashed together and toned down about three notches on the scale of druggy dance. The result is, oddly enough, down-tempo slow-building laments that stew in a pickle of electronics, clicks and auto-tuned vocals a la Blood Bank more than For Emma, Forever Ago. If that sounds horrible, James Blake’s Feist cover ‘Limit To Your Love’ (which features on this album) showed four months ago that Blake is versatile, adaptable and brimming with ideas. The core of this album is at ‘Lindesfarne I’ and ‘Lindesfarne II’- one song really, but split into the bit that’s almost completely vocal-only (yes, that’s right), and the bit that’s almost completely vocal-only with a few rhythmic flicks of a guitar here and there. Busy it is not. Silent moments on these and other tracks such as ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ (again, very much devoid of instrumentation) and ‘Why Don’t You Call Me’ serve as nervy seconds of reflection to stress and package the real sound that is carefully dotted around. Is it complicated? No, I wouldn’t say so either. The creations are just excellently crafted- like ‘I Mind’, perhaps the closest thing to Blake’s CMYK with its pitch-altering and dizzying sample, rarely places more than a chord and a carefully selected sound effect in any one place, breaking them up intermittently and unexpectedly for a new, sparing but deliberate ration of sound.
The lack of general confusion here, every action seemingly precision-engineered, makes for a focused and seriously engaging record. As though it were a dance of electronic hypnosis, each apparently immaterial singular blip or background chord hits a deeper place than it ought to. This is James Blake’s real crowning achievement. If ‘Limit To Your Love’ was its show piece, there might have been a sense of disappointment among keen followers, asking why a producer with a seemingly natural ear for choreographed minimalism and general creativity would conform to neat song structure or allow an excellent radio smash to take control of the record musically. But ‘Wilhelms Scream’, ‘Lindesfarne’ and seven other tracks do thrust Blake into an excellent direction, and, most promisingly, nothing sounds like it was a labour of pain or self-conscious worry. For a man on top of the world right now, Blake has a lot to be pleased about, and hopefully, a long career to look forward to.
Stream the album HERE courtesy of eminently lovely 'Pretty Much Amazing'