James Blake
James Blake


3.5
great


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Purest James Blake. Contains no added instrumentation or extraneous musical elements.

Released to much hype at the time, and in the process of being nominated for a Mercury prize, Blake's eponymous debut is his signature sound distilled to its absolute essence, in a collection of ambient, melancholy dubstep far removed from more commercial exponents of the genre such as Skream or Caspa. Though they mainly use rather different musical palates to express themselves, the mood of the album tends toward the isolationist, introspective 2-step of enigmatic producer Burial, himself nominated for a Mercury in 2007.

Stripping down the music even further from the already sparse textures of his CMYK and Klavierwerke EPs, most of the tracks are built on pianos set alongside soft ambient loops, undercut by the distinctive half-time drumbeat that the genre is well known for. However, tracks like 'Lindisfarne I' take this minimalist approach to the extreme, relying almost entirely on Blake's layered and treated vocals - a gambit that's not entirely successful when combined with oft-meandering song structures and vague lyrics bordering on the equivocal. Too frequently, as on album closer 'Measurements', or the aimless cut-up 'Why Don't You Call Me', the songs lose their sense of direction and grounding, simply being content to drift, albeit pleasantly, to understated conclusions.

Despite these compositional flaws, when Blake works within more song-oriented strictures, his somewhat unique sound can reap stunning results. On the Feist cover 'Limit To Your Love', nimble piano riffs and an untreated, cracked vocal combine to subtle yet devastating effect, before dropping out to be replaced with shuddering sub-bass and metronomic drums, only Blake's isolated, lonely vocals remaining. Alongside 'The Wilhelm Scream', with it's beautifully rising melody and soft, jazzy backing, 'Limit To Your Love' represents the most pop-minded, and perhaps not coincidentally, most effective moment on the album. Having said that, equally worthy of note is 'I Never Learnt To Share', whose solitary vocal line grows into a glorious, multi-tracked mesh of voices, before further building to a sawtoothed crescendo of synth and bass - aural proof that Blake is more than capable when working with traditional dubstep elements. Such highlights as these more than make up for the occasional dip in quality later on in the album.

At the end of the day, the album falls under the wing of that old cliche - 'showing potential'. Damming with faint praise that may appear to be, but in this case the potential is merely a hair's breadth away from being realized - If Blake can tighten up his songwriting and expand on his highly distinctive core sound, he could have a long and productive musical career ahead.



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user ratings (976)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
jefflebowski
August 31st 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

It's short, I know, and perhaps this doesn't need another review, but I just felt really like doing this for some reason.

And the Liars rec isn't as ridiculous as it sounds


Omaha
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2011


10269 Comments


Good review. I feel very similarly, although I feel Lindesfarne is the highlight of the album

jefflebowski
August 31st 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

or El Duderino, if you're not into that whole brevity thing...

I feel the middle paragraph really ties the review together, you know?

jefflebowski
August 31st 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I much prefer Lindisfarne Pt. II to part one. I just feel he stripped away a little TOO much instrumentation there

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2011


31341 Comments


Nice work

Though they don't strictly inhabit the same genre,


They do

jefflebowski
August 31st 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I always thought Burial was a lot more garage/2-step than Blake. He's certainly one hell of a lot more gritty. Eh, you're probably right, i'll give it a quick edit



Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2011


31341 Comments


He just focuses more on the garage side of dubstep, it's still the same genre. And to be honest a good 75% of Burial's self-titled is standard dubstep. Not standard as in quality but in the beats themselves. It's only on Untrue where he really started to get more uptempo

jefflebowski
August 31st 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Fair enough. I was thinking more of Untrue-era Burial when I made the contrast. the first Burial shares a lot more similarities to Blake now you mention it

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2011


31341 Comments


It's just that he was one of the first artists to really think outside the box with the genre by experimenting and adding in all these other little additions, like ambient and even a little house

letsgofishing
September 1st 2011


903 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Excellent writing here.

got yourself a POS

clercqie
Contributing Reviewer
September 1st 2011


6486 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

And another pos!

I'm really enjoying your work, Duuuude! =)

Digging: Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers

jefflebowski
September 1st 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

You're too kind, good sirs!

Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 1st 2011


7311 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good review; summary is quite clever.

jefflebowski
December 28th 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

does someone care to explain the neg?

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
December 28th 2011


31341 Comments


Good luck with that man

jefflebowski
December 28th 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

yeah I know it's probably a fruitless request, too bad i guess

jefflebowski
December 28th 2011


8253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

it's not like you to be controversial baseline

sportsboy
February 16th 2012


640 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great fucking review dude
obvious pos; haven't checked this out, but will do it later

Digging: Oneohtrix Point Never - Rifts



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