James Blake – James Blake (S/T) James Blake – James Blake (S/T)

James Blake - James Blake (S/T)

This review of British beatmaker James Blake’s debut album actually arrives rather tardily. It was released roughly three weeks ago, and I’ve actually spent much longer listening to it. 38.1 minutes of music, according to iTunes. So why the delay?

Firstly, James Blake is definitely an acquired taste, and one of the easiest and worst things to do as a reviewer is to rush out a judgment on an album that we would describe as a ‘grower’, lest ye look a fool. I didn’t think much of In Rainbows on first listen…..and that record turned out to be alright, eh?

Secondly, Mr. Blake has quite an aura of hype surrounding him these days. Whilst I cannot say if this has hit the States yet, those in the UK can surely not have failed to notice. He’s the one with the soulful voice being played on the radio whilst Zane Lowe goes apeshit. James Blake must have noticed; he’s being poked with sticks by Radio 1 presenters for his thoughts on Dubstep, Janis Joplin and marshmallows (probably). My preferred tactic for albums with the ‘grower’ and ‘hype’ tags on them is to play, go away, and play again. Rinse and repeat.

James Blake is pretty good. It’s alright. It is not “Boundary breaking in its vision”, as BBC music claim. First and foremost, regardless of the commercial push Blake is getting as some sort of dubstep poster boy, James Blake is not a dubstep album. Earlier works such as single The Bells Sketch and his remix of Untold’s Stop What You’re Doing could claim to be, in a leftfield sort of way, but you’d be better listening to the likes of Bon Iver or Anthony and The Johnsons as a preparation for James Blake rather than Untold or Burial. The excellent single “Limit To Your Love” showcases Blake’s talent brilliantly; centre stage is where this voice should be. Here Blake manages to show expertly how the slightest of touches- a piano chord, an echo, dragged out silence- can be used to haunting effect. The bass alone will have you coming back for more- I took roughly five or six listens before I could work out what the basic tune was, and am yet to come across a speaker system that can properly handle it. The bass on “Limit To Your Love” is probably the closest thing to dubstep on James Blake at all. The heart-wrenching ” The Wilhem Scream” plays like an IDM ballad, a wonderfully melancholic track that articulates perfectly a modern day sense of being lost, “I dunno about my dreams…./I dunno about my dreamin’ anymore/ All that I know is i’m falling, falling, falling….might as well fall in.”

The sad and melancholic are where Blake performs best, and the double barrelled “Lindesfarne” is no exception. Part 1 sees Blake break out the vocoder and going solo, chirping out barely discernable lyrics. Part 2 continues in a tender Bon Iver-y manner, Blake being joined by basic drum beats and rough acoustic guitars. It’s the diamond in the rough quality of the track that makes it special; properly special, not just in a ‘it’s ok for this album’ sort of way.

After an incredibly strong first half, James Blake fades. “Give Me My Month” is a bit of an annoying interlude, whilst the refrain on “I Mind” (It involves James Blake saying ‘I Mind’ a lot) is migraine inducing. It’s a shame that the feeling left after a full listen of James Blake is a sort of “meh”, the second half of the album losing focus and any sort of coherency. It requires a trip back to the start of the album to remember why you were enjoying yourself twenty minutes ago, and for that reason it’s one of the few albums where I don’t feel guilty about only listening to a selection of tracks all the time- At its best this album is genuinely moving, but the beige-ness of the second half of James Blake is almost too much to bear.

1. Unluck
2. The Wilhelm Scream
3. I Never Learnt To Share
4. Lindisfarne I
5. Lindisfarne II
6. Limit To Your Love
7. Give Me My Month
8. To Care (Like You)
9. Why Don’t You Call Me?
10. I Mind
11. Measurements

James Blake - James Blake (S/T), reviewed by Lemon on 2011-03-23T11:21:56-07:00 rating 3.6 out of 5

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