I don’t really get James Blake, regardless of my lecturer playing him before lectures to show how young and hip he is. Blake is certainly young and has affectations of hip, though I can’t imagine anyone hopping to anything he ever makes. He’s the latest in the long line of falsetto indie singer-songwriters who prefer things cold, desolate and somewhat depressing. New album Overgrown has been described as warmer and more soulful, though really that’s not hard when your sounds hover around sub-zero, and a development of his strangely dub-inflected sound. It’s also been called excellent and proof of an emerging star. Again, I don’t get it. Bon Iver has already done this and only two songs on the album feel like they have anything close to a soul, or even an original idea.
You spend the whole album waiting for him to do something different than just sing in his soft, yet strangely distant and disinterested style. You want him to just cut loose and do something to shake it all up. Like, I dunno, do a duet with a member of the Wu-Tang Clan or something. Do it with RZA, he’s the crazy one who made that film about punching. That would be brilliant. Oh, what’s that? That’s literally exactly what he did and it’s the first moment where something interesting happens in the album? Oh, well then.
The other decent song is the one I’m highlighting. On lead single Retrograde he finally puts all that atmosphere and tension built up over the course of the first, mercilessly dull, half of the album to use. He finally strings together a nice vocal hook and spits out some interesting lyrics, mixed with some nice changes in tone and style to actually keep things varied for once. And then, suddenly, it hits. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, this wall of synth that is best described as the sound of dystopia blasts in. It’s the moment where I was zapped out of my coma and started to get into things. He follows the song up with another exercise in atmospherics and, as suddenly as I was interested, he was totally lost on me again. Sigh. For two songs there he actually had me.
Seriously man, you have a great voice, very Jeff Buckley-esque, do not waste it on airy-ness and electro-soul crap. Make interesting sounds to put around it, and keep working with RZA. Please. That combination is freakishly effective.