James Blake – James Blake (A&M) 7/02/2011

February 1, 2011 by  

If you haven?t heard of James Blake yet, you will soon. He is the artist spearheading dubstep?s rise into the mainstream, having released three EP?s in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim. He also finished second in the BBC Sound of 2011 poll and all signs point to this being a massive year for the 23 year old from Enfield. Grade 8 at piano by the time he was 15, Blake?s calling came at 19 when he was studying at Goldsmith?s and found himself listening to the rising sounds of dubstep that were sweeping London.

Although Blake?s EP?s featured very little of his vocals, they are a staple on his debut album, creating part of the distinct sound and vision he strives for on the record. The heavily auto-tuned, layered and significantly repetitive vocals resonate and along with the carefully placed piano chords and the echoing drum snaps, create an incredibly engaging sound. His first single, a cover of Feist?s ?Limit To Your Love? is a departure from his previous work, featuring bare vocals and piano that sounds like a Bill Withers sample, and it had purists expecting a commercial sounding record. They need not worry as that is not the case, if anything Blake goes the other way, and he seems intent on quashing any thoughts of ?selling out? on opener ?Unluck?, stuttering along and stunning the listener with it?s minimalist beat and deep bass.

Future single ?Wilhelm?s Scream? is as soulful and straightforward as the record gets, relying on a hook in which Blake states ?I don?t know about my dreams, I don?t know about my dreamin? anymore?. Elsewhere however the record is calculated and Blake demonstrates incredible control on his use of instruments and indeed silence, which plays an important role on the record. On some tracks however, the restraints can leave the listener in the cold, and whilst sonically engaging, they fail to stir up emotion, such as ?I Mind?.

By definition this qualifies as a dubstep record, the booming bass and the echoes are still present, but by ear it is more than that. It seems Blake has achieved exactly what he set out to do on this record, which is a measure of the talent he possesses. If he can keep creating unique and original sounding records like this, his star will continue to rise.