2011 has already presented its fair share of impressive album releases. And now, enter James Blake’s magnificent self-titled debut full-length. After releasing three critically lauded EPs in 2010, speculation arose as to whether we’d be seeing a proper full-length anytime soon. It leaked back in December, and now that the highly anticipated album is official, it's pretty safe to say that he's exceeded his initial output.
Blake’s music has been referred to as post-dubstep or some form of sophisticated, ambient minimalism. And while it may have a share an affinity with those genres, Blake’s music values warped melody a lot more than his contemporaries in those fields. A large portion, if not all of James Blake consists of overlapping ideas, where time and structure mean everything. On the album opener “Unluck” – which is possibly the strongest cut of all 11 tracks – an ascending synth progression slowly builds momentum, but is often interrupted by startling, static jolts. Rather than sending the song's meters off course, the layers are a bedding for Blake's silky voice.
Blake’s auto-tuned, falsetto vocals are perhaps the album's boldest signature. On “Wilhems Scream”, Blake’s affection for R&B comes to the forefront while “Lindesfarne I” and “Lindesfarne II” superfluously connect to make a full composition out of two tracks, where Blake comes off sounding like a cross between Imogen Heap and Bon Iver. But it’s an unlikely cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” that has been receiving the most attention since November; one of the rare times where Blake drops the auto-tuner, the heartbreaking ballad is re-envisioned with meticulous precision and signature wobbly bass roars.
I recently caught a brief interview on BBC where Flying Lotus was discussing with Thom Yorke how it became a lot easier for him (Flying Lotus) to understand where Burial was coming from on Untrue after actually visiting London. James Blake is very similar in a sense; what makes this album so groundbreaking is its ability to successfully express a place and time: London, and Blake's post-dubstep moment, specifically. So while some may be left in the dark, others ought to revel in all of the bleak beauty that James Blake has to offer.