James Blake: James Blake
Dance & ElectronicaSoul
It’s hard to believe that this London-based producer and
singer is just 22-years-old, and that James
Blake is his debut album on a major record label (we’re not counting his
previous release, Klavierwerke as it
was an EP with only four tracks). It’s also difficult to define his music or even
explain the ingredients that make such an intriguing and layered sound.
Even musical critics struggle to categorise Blake’s music,
agreeing on it being dubstep but wavering between neosoul, grime, gospel and a
vague strain of r&b. Blake himself describes his music as ‘Dupstep/Grime/Melodramatic
The eleven-track album is difficult to listen to if you’re
not familiar with dubstep or ambient music. Give it a try, however, and with
every listen you’ll discover a surprising, new layer to the songs. Blake uses
his young age and fragile voice to his advantage; the songs’ lyrics are
sincere, pure, and he exploits the moments where his voice breaks just slightly
off-key into a beautiful melody. Instead of using his vocals at the forefront,
he uses it as a fabric into which he weaves many different sounds and effects.
Another thing that Blake does exceptionally well is the way
he uses silence as a part of the melody. The beats and melodies end abruptly to
a silence that builds until a soft beat gradually rises or a new tune is shyly introduced,
and on one occasion, the silence makes way for a build up of static noise that
gives the song its climax.
If it’s possible to describe his music in two words; it
would be unpredictable and haunting. ‘Why Don’t You Call Me’ starts off with Blake‘s
frail vocals over slightly off-tune piano echoes; as if he was recording in a basement.
He then laces the piano melody with auto-tune background vocals as a female
vocal interjects only for the song to abruptly end. Just like that.
On ‘Wilhelm Screams’ Blake’s vocals start out powerfully,
only to be gradually and seductively drowned by static chords, synth melodies
and crescendo sounds. He sings of falling in love as if he’s falling into an
abyss, and the more he sings it; rushing sounds, his echoing vocals and the
increasing but subtle beats give you verigo and make you feel like you’re
falling into a deep tunnel with him. ‘Lindesfarne I’ uses Blake’s slightly worn
auto tune vocals over complete silence only to break into a simple guitar
backing and a hollow beat. Then the song transitions smoothly into ‘Lindesfarne
II,’ which strips the minimalist song bare, leaving just the beat for a few
counts till the vocals and guitar return to crescendo, and something just as
simple as that make a moving difference to the two tracks.
His version of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ starts off suddenly
with a piano melody that weaves a beautiful, haunting sound; it’s even better
when you raise the volume to feel the impact of the dubstep bass flutter.
You need to listen to James Blake several times with the
volume raised to appreciate the tiny details that make such unpredictable but
captivating tunes. Haunting, complex and layered, it’s a breath of fresh air
that Blake used his own fragile vocals to give a sense of realism to dubstep
rather than rely on vocal tracks.