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White Noise: James Blake – James Blake

Saturday, 14 May 2011

James Blake – James Blake

James Blake came out of nowhere last year. The story of a student of classical music with a sudden conversion to dubstep is certainly interesting, and he released a series of EPs throughout last year that ranged from quirky to fantastic, CMYK and Air or Lack Thereof becoming two of my favourite singles of the year.

So I had pretty high hopes for his debut full-length. Dubstep artists have sometimes fallen flat on the release of their first LPs, with releases such as Mount Kimbie's Crooks & Lovers being a good collection of singles but not really a coherent album. However James Blake has seemed to show an awareness of the importance of cohesion in his releases so far, and has a distinct style that works as well at home as on the decks.

So it was a disappointment that with this album he didn't quite live up to his earlier promise. There are certainly some absolutely brilliant cuts on the album, on his first single Wilhelm's Scream (presumably named after the stock screaming sound effect found on hundreds of old films) Blake pushes his trademark minimal beats and sounds to breaking point while his echo-y vocals provide a hook-laden melody beneath which the song swells darkly throughout its length, ultimately deflating in a subtle alternative to a crashing drop that works perfectly.

James Blake works superbly with the unexpected; his cover of Feist's Limit To Your Love builds as two separate tracks: a pleasant piano riff and a dark, dubby instrumental that come together towards the end perfectly. Sometimes, however, these tactics work to his disadvantage. In I Never Learnt to Share his own layered vocal refrain is backed up by a promising synth-y buildup, but it reaches an overblown, out-of-place crescendo that just sounds rather unpleasant.

Album closer Measurements is a beautiful, haunting track with little electronic accompaniment to his surprisingly strong voice and a good melody on the keyboard, ushering out the album with a quiet reverence. But it feels as though the bulk of the album is just trying to achieve the heights of these stand-out tracks by repeating their successes. Why Don't You Call Me and Give Me My Month are sub-Measurements piano pieces, while To Care (Like You) and I Mind seem repeats of beats and ideas implemented earlier and to better effect in the top half of the album. Opinion could go either way on the super-minimal Lindesfarne tracks, I tried to find them interesting but ultimately just ended up getting bored.

James Blake sounds different, he's chilled-out but also interesting, and there aren't many around doing what he does at the moment. And sure, this album is nice as a more ambient listen, and the songs are well sequenced in terms of its highs and lows, but ultimately there aren't enough good tracks here to hold together an LP, and from such a promising talent I honestly expected better.


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