James Blakes selftitled debut is without doubt a strong debut album, and a modern classic.
His experimental neo-dubstep on that album, was full of James Blakes creative production, mostly snippets of his soulful voice. At times it was to experimental for me. And too little focused and lacking structure. A collection of songs rather than a complete album.
Now that his second album is here, I have to admit I was a bit excited and sceptic if he managed to outdo his first album.
The first single “Retrograde” showed a “new” James Blake. He sounded less experimenal and more laid back. The production was softer, James Blake focused more on his vocals – he dared to be a vocalist, an singer songwriter. James Blake is not only a producer, a songwriter, arranger – but he´s also a extraordinary vocalist. With a voice that sounds like a cross between Talk Talks Mark Hollis, Antony & The Johnsons Antony Hegarty and the norwegian singer songwriter Thomas Dybdahl. Warm, soulful – smooth!
With his second album, James Blake have grown up, but not outgrown himself.
The production is better, he has written songs this time – almost all songs have full lyrics and a structure instead of snippets of looped vocals like on the debutalbum. If Blake had tried to outdo the debut album – make an even more experimental – make a James Blake pt II, I am afraid he would have tried to hard.
Instead he has mellowed the production, and he looks back. I can hear traces of trip hop here. Artists like Massive Attack, Tricky and even Björk seems to be inspiration, he even flirts with the dancefloor here and there.
Second track and third track “I Am Sold” and “Life Round Here” both tracks makes me think how Massive Attack around “Protection” would sound with James Blake as guest vocalist. The only guest artists is vocalist from Wu-Tang/Gravediggaz member and actor/screenwriter/director RZA who raps in english (instead of american) on “Take A Fall For Me” a song that sounds more like Tricky – than Tricky himself has done for years.
Skip forward to the Brian Eno produced “Digital Lion” where James Blake does a track that sounds like a update on Björks “Hyper Ballad” mixed with Plastikmans “Spastik”.
If you want to dance, the club-friendly beats of french sounding song titled “Voyeur” is the track to seek. And when he let the beats pump out of the stereo for the last minute it´s almost like James Blake asks for the track to be included on a DJ-mix album. I would love to hear someone do a fat clubmix of this track!
Have you noticed war siren sound on several of the tracks? It seems to be part of a concept on this album. The sound is incorporeted at the end of a majority of the tracks: The one finger push on one button on the synth, and held down/looped and/or timestreched for the next minute or so. Until the end of the song (see i.e. “Retrograde” for a perfect example). If there is a soundconcept on the album, this sound is!
James Blakes Top 5 most popular songs according to Spotify is
- “Retrograde” off “Overgrown” album,
- “Limit To Your Love” the beautiful Feist cover from “James Blake”
- “A Case Of You” his wonderful version of the Joni Mitchell classic
- “The Willhelm Scream” off James Blake
If his two cover versions of “Limit To Your Love” and “A Case Of You” is what you love about James Blake and is the sounds you love from him. I promise you you would love the whole “Overgrown” album. Some reviewers has called the album to slow, and if i should agree with that I would say the album is a slowburner. But let it sink in. It comes to you slowly – and when it hits you – you´re stuck!