Review Summary: I don't blame them. I don't blame them. I don't blame them. I don't blame them. I don't blame them. I don't blame them. I don't blame them. I don't blame them...
Bon Iver have a lot to answer for. Write a bunch of dreary half-arsed songs; about something intangible and ethereal about, I don’t know, lost love perhaps. Act like a poet tormented by - by what exactly- let’s say, the travails and rigours of modern existence. Wrap the lyrics in layers of musical distortion: the more indecipherable, the more mystical. Call the whole package, this chilled out wave of chamber pop licking at the edges of dubstep, something abstract like “neo-soul revolutionism”. But after the one hundred and sixteenth refrain of “my brother, my sister don’t speak to me, I don’t blame them”, there dawns a creeping realisation that James Blake is actually telling me something else: maybe that he’s oh so edgy; maybe that he’s too clever by half with that song title (I Never Learnt To Share
); or maybe that he’s listened to the aforementioned Bon Iver, Antony Hegarty and Laurie Anderson once too often.
What’s striking for an album with so little instrumentation, a squirl of piano here, a splurge of churchy synthesiser there, that places its vocals so squarely in the centre stage, is how little it has to say. There’s some mumbling about “falling” in nearly every song, the odd half-hearted allusion to lost love, but really there isn’t even a snatch of a half decent lyric anywhere.
Instead it’s the gaps between the words, the concentration of silence that is shoehorned into this record that is remarkable. James Blake strips out the noise, the clutter of music, pares away the skin and flesh, leaving us the barest of bones; scoops out the marrow of meaning.
Sometimes to say more, you have to say less.
The tempo, also, limps along, crawls at a snail’s pace, or not progressing at all, in fact turns in on itself, revisiting, going backwards. These songs go nowhere, end up nowhere. Enveloping this silence, this stasis, is the ostentation of the production, the pitter patter splatter of beats as an organ churns and groans in Why Don’t You Call Me
; the sonar pings of The Wilhelm Scream
; the sub-bass rumble that props up two piano chords in Limit To Your Love
. Regrettably, this minimalist aesthetic is more to be admired than enjoyed, such as the diasporic percussion clacks in Unluck
presaging its inevitable wall of noise collapse.
Like that album portrait, skulking in the shadows, refracted, this album hides more than it reveals: voice dressed up in vocoder effects, melody distorted by electronic glitchery, mock gospel insinuated by vocal multi layering. Is this emotion? Is this a man baring his soul? Or is it an artificial construct, James Blake basking in the coldness of things, as absurd as an Eskimo sunbather, not experiencing pain but wallowing in its distant, glacial beauty?