James Blake – Overgrown
Who is James Blake?
He’s a London born singer-songwriter who also happens to be a pioneering electronic music producer. He almost single-handedly created the ‘post-dubstep’ movement a few years ago before understandably trying to distance himself from such a horribly reductive pigeon-hole.
What do I need to know about Overgrown?
When he first emerged in 2010, it was obvious that James Blake was a prodigiously talented musician and producer capable of crafting atmospheric and beguiling music. His self-titled debut in 2011 didn’t quite hit the mark though, suffering from both a lack of heart and a lack of tunes. Expectations are now high that second album Overgrown will see Blake live up to his potential, and early signs have been promising – with lead single ‘Retrograde’ and particularly ‘Voyeur’ demonstrating a growing ability to marry his precocious talents with pleasing pop hooks.
What’s good about Overgrown?
As you would expect from James Blake, Overgrown is a brilliantly crafted and composed piece of work. The production, in particular, goes beyond his debut album and the ‘post dubstep’ conventions and is more in line with The xx’s Coexist in terms of engaging atmospherics and invention. The ghostly bass pulses on the title track, for instance, create a bewitching tension which Blake exploits with a great vocal melody.
The RZA featuring ‘Take A Fall For Me’ demonstrates Blake’s ability to shape a bleak but rhythmic hip-hop backing, which bodes well for his rumoured collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, while ‘Voyeur’ is possibly the best thing Blake has done so far. It builds gradually and naturally from a simple piano chime and vocal intro into an electro-house beast. Likewise, the much vaunted collaboration with Brain Eno, ‘Digital Lion’, builds from humble beginnings into a swirling and electrifying monster.
What’s not so good?
In terms of adding more approachable and engaging hooks into his music, Overgrown is a massive success for James Blake. However, there remains a heart-shaped hole right in the middle of his music. For the most part, the precision-engineered production is breathtaking, but at times it feels cold and distant – with no soul for the listener to connect with and relate to. Subsequently tracks like ‘DLM’ and ‘To The Last’ border on dull and lifeless.
For the most part – Overgrown boasts a breathtaking blend of atmospheric production, engaging vocals and impressive songwriting and it positions James Blake as one of the most talented artists around.