Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Recommended music: 'James Blake' by James Blake

OK, so I probably won't be the only person to recommend James Blake's album to you this week. But sometimes there's a reason why everyone says that something's good, and that's because it is.

Lead single 'Limit To Your Love' is all over the radio so you'll no doubt have heard it. A cover of a Feist track, it's an unusual choice but it does give a good entrance point into his world of piano and vocals meets glitchy electronics and breakbeats. 'Give Me My Month' in contrast is pure piano & vocals but is still not the simplest track here - that honour is given to 'Lindisfarne 1' which is purely just layers of vocals - with no accompaniment, the gaps between lines gradually make you more and more uncomfortable. The relief when 'Lindisfarne 2''s backing track kicks in is almost palpable.

As well as vocal loops and effects, used to particularly good effect in 'To Care (Like You)' and 'I Mind' there are also lyrical loops - at nearly 5 minutes long 'I Never Learnt To Share' only contains 14 different words (My brother & my sister don't speak to me, but I don't blame them) sung over and over again, initially just as a sole vocal, which is then added to with harmonies, beats and keyboards, building up to a crescendo before dropping away.

The use of the vocoder on some of the tracks is bewitching, all the more so because underneath it there is a genuinely brilliant voice. Musically, as well as the dubstep influences there are soul and jazz vibes, and at times the general sparseness and gaps in the music remind me of late period Talk Talk.

There is a fear that this might become this year's 'dinner party' dubstep album, in much the same way that The xx was last year - Blake himself has said that their success will make it easier for his album to be understood. But you would really be doing this an album a disservice if you relegated it to the status of background music - it deserves to be paid attention to. Listen to it on your own with a decent pair of headphones on, or on a late night drive with the volume cranked up, and you'll really learn to appreciate the artistry at work here. Although some of the songs are sparser than others, every single sound and note here serves a purpose, and has been layered up to provide a haunting experience. In particular Blake's dubstep DJ past can be seen in the crispness of the beats and the deepness of the sub-bass.

Some listeners have been disappointed that Blake appears to have strayed from his dubstep roots, but they are missing out on what he has achieved here, which is to create a proper 21st century soul record, one that redefines the genre in a fascinating and revolutionary way. If Marvin Gaye was a young man today this is the kind of music that he would, or should, be making.

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