Today we’re not looking at the tennis player (that would be an odd choice for a music blog, huh?) but rather, the other James Blake: a 22-year-old British producer and DJ, whose recent foray into the world of songwriting has been widely acclaimed by tastemakers such as Pitchfork and BBC Radio. After teasing his fans with several EPs over the last year, James finally graced us with his debut LP on February 8. It may be cliché to sing his praises considering all the hype surrounding him online, but I believe James Blake truly deserves it.
Superficially, James Blake’s sound could be called dubstep, a new electronic movement characterized by clicks, glitches and similarly subtle sounds that are rhythmically syncopated to create danceable tunes. However, his sound is more nuanced than that: James sets himself apart from his contemporaries with profound minimalism. He most often strips down his instrumental arsenal to the bare essentials: voice, chords, and bass, and he auto-tunes and layers these simple components to great effect. James follows classical composer Debussy’s maxim that “music is the space between the notes”, in that the sheer number and length of pauses in each track allow the listener to appreciate even the smallest changes in the music’s harmonies and mood. A master sonic craftsman, he allows each song to build to a high in a way that must be deliberate, yet feels entirely natural.
Each and every track has a beautifully distinct character, but I’ll try to choose a few must-listens. “The Wilhelm Scream”, the second track on the album, features James’ soulful vocals, with a blurry yet gorgeous video that provides a perfect complement to the sound. The follow-up track, “I Never Learnt to Share”, proves that a song with only two lines of lyrics can still be incredibly compelling! Lastly, “Limit To Your Love” is a phenomenal pared-down cover of Feist’s folksy song, notable as much for its immaculately-executed pauses as it is for its killer piano hook.
In terms of sheer musical ingenuity and mastery of production, this is the best electronic/dubstep/minimalist/WHATEVER record I’ve heard in quite a long time. James Blake has rightfully earned his crown as a musical ingenue to be reckoned with, and you would be remiss not to check out his album as soon as possible!
James Blake was released digitally in the US on February 8, 2011, and I for one am eagerly awaiting its hard-copy debut.
Review by Rachel Davidson