James Blake | James Blake (Universal Republic)

James Blake has put together a unique album full of rollicking rumbles, fuzzy waves, and silent moments that make the former two all the more shattering.

 

 

The inventive genre of dubstep has grown in force and popularity over the past couple years, even planting some of its elements in pop music, such as Britney Spears’s single “Hold it Against Me.” The core fan base undoubtedly gags at most attempts by mainstream producers and artists to hop on the dubstep bandwagon. Now, a unique vision and sound has thumped out of England. Instead of planting destructive beats in songs that could have used a handful of other elements as filler, James Blake—singer, producer, DJ, pianist—has put together a unique album full of rollicking rumbles, fuzzy waves, and silent moments that make the former two all the more shattering. In fact, dubstep is more on the backburner, but that’s what makes the minimalistic qualities throughout more powerful.

Blake’s clean and soulful voice brings an honesty never heard in music with such vibration. He layers his voice repeatedly and sings over himself in a fractured way that makes the uncertainty of outcomes in life so devastatingly apparent. In “Wilhelm’s Scream,” Blake isn’t sure about much, but he knows he might as well accept whatever will happen. The repetition of the lyrics works with the growing wave of ominous sounds that take over the song and then drop back to focus on the sincerity of Blake’s voice. There’s only one phrase in “I Never Learnt to Share,” which gets to be too repetitive, but the layers of his voice and the gospel-esque beats save it from being too tiresome.

“Lindesfarne I” and “Lindesfarne II” don’t succeed in their ambitions. Blake’s petrifying and heart-wrenching voice is over-processed and the silent moments that work so well in the following song, “Limit to Your Love,” just come off as boring. Everything is in its right place in the Feist cover, “Limit to Your Love.” The simple, deep piano is beautiful alone, then the sub-bass comes in at the minute mark and vibrates the soul; then the beat disappears and leaves the body trembling, aching for more, which it gets after the brief moment of yearning. The bass fades out with a sturdy drumbeat that stops the song, but not the trembles that it causes inside of your skull.

“Give Me My Month” proves that Blake can sing and play a straightforward song without all the huzzah he drapes over the other tracks. “To Care (Like You)” raises and drops a simple ‘O’ sound from Blake and the sampled female singer into what becomes the main beat of the song—other than the rapid pitter-patter that races around the deep, pulsating bass. The closer, “Measurements,” doesn’t have a textured or elaborate layout. A lyric starts but doesn’t finish, and then the full lyric is layered over the soft hesitance of the first effort. The effect strikes a chord with the feeling of uncertainty and the eventual understanding that we are in this together. At times in this debut album, Blake tries to catch up with the beat with a youthful weariness. By the end of “Measurements” he is certain in his convictions, but still can’t catch up with himself—that is, the layers of himself. B | Alex Schreiber

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