James Blake obviously knows what he's doing as his full length debut is an all around good album, filled with memorable lines, a consistent dreary atmosphere, and a solid array of songwriting quirks. If this is your first exposure to Blake as it is for me, you can't help but to be immediately impressed by the guy. As opening track "Unluck" moves through its soulful croons and slow moving beat, it is apparent Blake is a proficient musician in all phases worth criticising. Yet when "Unluck" ends and another wonderfully solid track in "Wilhelm Scream" traps you in its tender aura, an unmistakable thought enters your mind: why isn't this blowing me away?
Perhaps it's in Blake's voice; his words resonate pain, no doubt, but a kind of reserved pain that's just itching to explode out of him and it never really does. It's the sort of vocal performance that is easy to identify but difficult to relate to. Singing with reservation has certainly worked before, but here I feel as though Blake's singing is a step behind what his emotions really are. Where he could have nearly cried at the mic, he restrains himself to the point of coming off sort of flat. This uninspiring performance creates an interesting contradiction to how his voice and backing electronica actually sound; Blake has an ear for atmosphere and tension, creating songs that almost act as soundscapes through shallow, dimly lit waters. He also uses negative space as an amplifier for things to come, such as "Lindesfarne 1" and its minimalist vocals just peeking out through the darkness that slide into the Bon Iver-esque "Lindesfarne 2", which is quiet but makes a statement.
Another slight problem heard throughout some of the record is how Blake's vocals seem to not fit with the songs themselves. To some this might seem a positive aspect - a jigsaw puzzle tilted on its side and blurry, simply adding to the effect of the album. Yet it can detract from how good of a songwriter Blake is; "I Never Learnt To Share" is arguably the album's strongest track, an anxious song brimming with life that explodes into utter euphoria until the end, but Blake's vocal melodies almost sound like they were added on after the track was finished as song melody and vocals feel like two seperate entities, neither feeding off each other.
Despite these nitpicky shortcomings, James Blake is one talented dude. It's easy to get thrown into James Blake and enjoy it, as it is simply good music, if you can see past some quirky bumps in the road that keep Blake from propelling this album into superb territory. Now, when's the new Burial coming out?
here I feel as though Blake's singing is a step behind what his emotions really are. Where he could have nearly cried at the mic, he restrains himself to the point of coming off sort of flat.
would the record really benefit from that kind of really obvious emotional approach? for me at least, the entire atmosphere is far too measured and controlled for it. the vocals do just enough; if he'd started bawling at the mic this would be awful.
I get the feeling that you want some kind of emotional payout in the vocals, that you're bothered that there is no resolution by the album's end. I think his is a quiet dilemma, a sort of restrained cry for attention I guess. Anything more than that would just take away from the atmosphere
Also, what's up with that last line? What does Burial have to do with this?
I can see where you're going with the vocals being a different entity from melody, but I don't think you choose the best example, in "I never learnt to share" that only works for the best methinks, this dissociation reflects perfectly the lyrics in that track. anyway w/e good review and neat final line, pos'd.
I completely disagree, because - and I've said this before - your only problem with the album happens to be one of the things I really love about the record. I think you're looking a little too hard for some sort of emotional catharsis when there isn't - and won't be - one.
I get where you're coming from - this isn't really an emotionally affecting album, but I don't think it's fair to approach it as such. I kind of agree with Deviant, if his vocals weren't as hollow and indifferent it would taint the album's atmosphere and what Blake was going for in the first place.
Man, it really all boils down to how people are interpreting Blake's performance. I'm with Kirgasm on this one. This is the performance of a guy who is too self-aware and understands his pain too well to desolve into hysterics, even if he wants to. He lets the music speak for that. It's why "I Never Learnt to Share" is beautiful when it splits open. Surely you can relate to wanting to cry but understanding why there's no sense in doing so. What a heavy, damning feeling that is (in other words, James Blake).
yeah but his voice just isn't good enough to carry some of the more sparse piano songs on the second half of the record. i get the whole restrained emotion thing, but i would buy it much more if he had a stronger voice.