James Blake – James Blake LP (Atlas Records)
After a breakthrough 2010, James Blake proceeds into the New Year with his self-titled debut LP, to be released on February 7th via his own Atlas Records imprint.
In interviews leading up to the release, Blake expressed that it would be a more vocal lead piece than his previous two EPs, taking influence from artists such as Bon Ivor and Joanna Newsom.
As with CMYK’s 90’s R’n’B and Klavierwerke’s Mount Kimbie, Blake wears these influences on his cheek. Grinded into the sound we also detected flavours of Jack Penate, Joe and Wild Beasts.
Out of the 11 tracks on the LP, you can count on one hand how many do not contain heavy doses of re-pitched vocals, a vocal tool championed by one Kanye West. James Blake uses it mostly here to maneuver his voice into different octaves and in essence add extra layers to his production, a la Thom Yorke.
Recent release and hype builder Limit to your Love opened the world to the scope and range of Blake’s broken, yet stunning, voice. He spreads it liberally across minimalistic soundscapes with such ease that belies the fact that this is his first vocal lead release.
There are several potential ‘highlights’ on this record, from the dancing charm of Give me my Month to the indescribable splendour of Lindesfarne I. The penultimate track, I Mind, is possibly the best exponent for James Blake’s latest musical venture, as it perfectly positions itself on the plateau between Blake’s vocal and electronic work.
As with other tracks on the record, over four different vocal pitches are utilized in the track, with the chorus taking in all of these levels as it cascades over the smooth carpet of 4/4 percussion laid down to support it.
Since being previously leaked in the Summer of 2010, I Never Learnt to Share has been given a facelift and an extra 90 seconds in its transition from leak to album track.
The extra 90 seconds comes in the form of an extended introduction with unaccompanied vocals taking us through eight repeats of the burrowingly addictive verse.
After speaking to James Blake when he played at Abandon Silence in September, he spoke of his desire to move away from DJ sets, and into the live spectrum. His upgrade of I Never Learnt To Share appears to have been orchestrated perfectly for that setting. The easy drum build is just crying out for handclaps, and the ultimately hard hitting crescendo lends itself to a festival crowd. With plans for Glastonbury this year, I couldn’t imagine a better setting for Blake to play this record out.
Album opener Unluck is the perfect example of Blake using his influences extensively. In the Pitchfork end of year Polls he spoke of his love for Joe’s recent release, Claptrap. Unluck deploys some fantastically layered vocals spread across some quickfire percussion that does more than nod towards Joe’s Hessle Audio release.
The one track that appears capable of reaching the mass audience garnered by recent 12” Limit to Your Love (which does feature here), is the second track to feature, Wilhelms Scream.
The opening recalls Postpone from the CMYK EP, before some very Jack Penate sounding falsetto vocals seep in. The refrain, “I’m fallin’, fallin, fallin,” is sure to be a crowd highlight when he takes his show on the road in 2011.
When people discussed Blake’s crossover into vocal work from electronic, there were some eyebrows raised; after all, he had received deafening acclaim for his electronic work, so surely the only way was down? Wilhelms Scream butts down any of those fears, with his classically trained vocals echoing across the wall of sound style soundscape that steadily builds throughout the track’s near 5 minute length.
While reviewing this album, there has been one adjective that I have been refraining to use; yet it is the poignant and appropriate word. So, in conclusion, the clearest and most effective method for me to describe this record is simply…
This album is beautiful.
James Blake - Lindesfarne (live on BBC Radio 1) by MSFRQZ
James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream (Live at BBC Radio 1 Maida Vale) by Music Fan's Mic