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Monday, February 14, 2011

James Blake -- James Blake

Anytime something is regarded by the keepers of cool as the next big thing, people can usually be found in three camps of response:
1. I already think this is awesome.
2. I automatically don't like this.
3. I'll judge for myself once I listen.
I try to place myself in the third, though I admittedly have to put up a hard fight against the second option. In trendy circles, James Blake, who before this self-titled release had yet to put out a full-length album, is being heavily touted. Not to the "Saviours of Rock" levels of hyperbole The Strokes received upon their inception, but pretty close. I was immediately ready to loathe Blake's music, but have been stopped in my tracks. The guy is pretty good at what he does.
James Blake is essentially a soul singer vocalizing over minimalist electronics, or at times, through electronics. At several moments he also incorporates car-shaking beats and basslines. I refuse to use the description "dubstep" in regard to this music--that term has been parcelled out to cover so many sounds I no longer feel it has any relevance.
Blake spells out his intentions in first track, "Unluck," which employs almost every tool at his disposal--a simple beat, shifting piano figure, rising electronics, and digitally manipulated singing. It does not feature what turns out to be Blake's strongest element--discerning uses of complete or near silence. He utilizes this best on first single, "Limit to Your Love." Though a cover of a track from Feist's 2007 album, The Reminder, Blake makes this song sound like an original. He has also been using visuals to masterfully convey the feeling of his music. Check out the video for the aforementioned track:

I wish I could say he is able to maintain the consistency of quality he does in this track throughout the album, but I put my scores at the start, so you already know I think he doesn't. The problem with this album plagues most "next big thing" releases by artists. The sounds Blake conjures on his debut are nice, but they are limited. Though his album is only 38 minutes long, I found myself looking at my watch 25 minutes in. The same exact piano sounds, similar beats, and repetitive vocals, while always sounding nice, get tiring after a while. And this leads into my lazy comparison for this album because this is the best way I can express my feelings for it:

LAZY COMPARISON: Like taking a warm bath in the dark for 38 minutes. Nice for a while, but eventually your skin starts to prune and you want to get up and walk around for a bit.

2011 ATLAS/A & M Records
1. Unluck 3:04
2. The Wilhelm Scream 4:36
3. I Never Learnt to Share 4:52
4. Lindisfarne I 2:43
5. Lindisfarne II 2:59
6. Limit to Your Love 4:40
7. Give Me My Month 1:54
8. To Care (Like You) 3:54
9. Why Don't You Call Me 1:36
10. I Mind 3:35
11. Measurements 4:21

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