James Blake – James Blake
[ATLAS / A&M / Polydor, 2011]
Nick Torsell, February 9, 2011
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath
Listen: “Lucky Now”
James Blake, in his short recording career, has released a pretty diverse discography. With the chopped and screwed R&B sampling CMYK, harsh dubstep of The Bells Sketch, and the crushing minimalism ofKlavierwerke all under his belt, Blake was ready to bring it all together for an album. The fact that Blake did so well while wading through his early twenties, speaks to how exciting he is as a musician.
Blake’s self-titled debut sounds like it’s been thawed from ice. His beats sting, while his vocals warm, and the listener is left with something in between. On the third track, “I Never Learnt to Share,” he constantly switches the downbeat, occasionally letting it flatten out, and then other times letting it reverberate. He does this while repeating the lyric, “My brother and my sister/don’t speak to me/ but I don’t blame them”. He knows he has something killer, and just repeats it over and over again until the superficial floor he has created falls into an electronic flurry.
The lyrics sheet from this album is filled with post collegiate ennui. After leaving Goldsmith’s College in London, it’s not hard to imagine why Blake’s lyrics focus on the inability to connect to the outside world, whether that’s family, friends, or some shadowy girlfriend figure. His video for “The Wilhelm Scream” is just him, up against a light blue screen, frequently opaque, distorting the image of Blake and occasionally a female figure who we never fully see. Over the dripping synths and drum kicks, Blake repeats “I don’t know about my dreams/I don’t know about my dreams anymore”, contrasting with another line I don’t know about my love/ I don’t know about my loving anymore. Blake struggles with the loss of feeling and excitement one copes with, as you get older. The crushing emotional highs and lows of adolescence, that pit in your stomach when you catch someone’s eyes across the desks in your classroom, is now gone, in its place, a plateau of indifference.
Once again, even when given more time, Blake has trouble sitting still, constantly switching between anxious dubstep on Feist cover, “Limit To Your Love” and lonely guy at a piano balladry on “Give Me My Month.” The one constant is the space and silence he incorporates into every song. This is definitely not dance music, which you couldn’t say for “Bells” or “CMYK,” no matter how outside the mainstream they were. This is an album for cold nights shivering under a bare light bulb, dreaming of being outside without a coat on.