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February 28, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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James Blake – James Blake

James Blake gained popularity with two dubstep EPs, but this album—his first full length LP—sounds more like dub than dubsteb. Unlike on the EPs, his voice is brought to the foreground on this seemingly simplistic and minimal album. He generally repeats one or two lines while bending and layering his voice to fit with the rising and falling intensity of the music. It’s difficult to apply a genre to this album, as Blake has masterfully combined elements of soul, folk, dubsteb, and R&B with a cohesive and restrained execution. His layering of percussion, voices, clicks, static, keyboards and piano create a sound that is paradoxically minimal and heavily textured.

The first two tracks on the album, ‘Unluck’ and ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, are among the strongest. ‘Unluck’ puts Blake’s range and voice on full display. As he sings, clicking and scraping noises provide rhythm and distorted keyboards progress in volume and intensity. ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ starts as a pared-down, sparse track: Blake repeats a couple of lines presumably about falling in love, while static builds up on the track and his voice is almost lost. The effect is especially eerie as he sings “all that I know is I’m falling, falling, falling, falling, might as well fall in”.

However, it is ‘I Mind’ that I found to be the most strikingly original and brilliant. Blake loops and bends layers of his own voice, accompanied by piano, and a beat that constantly changes tempo while keeping consistent rhythm.
Blake’s voice and musicianship are exceptional, his classical training especially showing through on the piano driven tracks. He exhibits this skill in the Feist cover ‘Limit to Your Love’ and final track ‘Measurements’. The restrained minimalism applied throughout the album contrasts with the personal and heartfelt lyrics in songs, like in ‘I Never Learnt to Share’ (“my brother and sister don’t speak to me/but I don’t blame them”) and ‘To Care (Like You)’ (“how forlorn to watch you go/how full on to watch you grow”). The effect is a well-textured and multi-layered album that unravels more and more on repeat listens.

James Blake is probably on the verge of becoming very popular. Although this album has come out around the same time as Radiohead’s latest LP, The King of Limbs (which is of a vaguely similar ilk), I believe this album will eclipse it and enter the mainstream very soon. Despite the fact that it’s only February, I’m confident this will be considered one of the best albums of 2011.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Jimmie blake says:

    Lol @ ‘more like dub than dub step’
    lol @ on the VERGE of being very popular.

  2. SK says:

    was three EPs not two…

  3. Jamess says:

    Francis Cook is a true tastemaker, right up there with everyone else who has read Pitchfork.com for the last six months

  4. Lois says:

    It’s great to read something that’s both enjoyable and provides pragmatisdc soultoins.

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