James Blake
Overgrown


4.6
superb

Review

by Sobhi Youssef EMERITUS
April 8th, 2013 | 714 replies | 77,200 views


Release Date: 04/08/2013 | Tracklist

Review Summary: When I see the pictures of every life and the day they die / It's your image burnt into my mind

When "Retrograde" was released in February as the first single from Overgrown it came as a welcome shock to fans and critics alike. Not only was the video artful in its juxtaposition of an asteroid impact with the longing conveyed, but it also redefined our expectations of James Blake. Taking a page from How To Dress Well's book of production techniques (a common trend lately), Blake eschewed the pervading future garage style of his self-titled debut in favor of a more intimate, yet simplified atmosphere. In light of this, releasing "Retrograde" first was an effective primer for his audience, in that it acts as a microcosm for the new direction of Overgrown. "New" direction may be slightly misleading though; what's going on here is essentially an evolution. Blake's brand of subdued dubstep is still here, yet stripped down to its base elements with a heavy focus on detail - effectively restraining itself when prudent.

Admittedly, not every track can be as stirring as "Retrograde", but Overgrown is still a dynamic improvement upon James Blake. The record focuses much more on soul-laden balladry than anything else, showing off Blake's improved songwriting skills while casting a spotlight on his angelic tenor. This rectifies a serious problem on prior works in providing a concrete compositional direction - apparent immediately on self-titled opener "Overgrown", the new record is focused with not only well developed transitions, but also a vocal clarity never before heard from Blake. It's a logical improvement; the most popular tracks on his debut were merely cover songs (well-imagined at that, yet still not completely original material), while the rest were trite excursions into dubstep with seemingly scattered, inconsistent vocal interruptions. Overgrown takes these missteps and eliminates them - instead opting for a vacuous, synth-heavy style capable of transporting even the most obstinate listener to a realm of introspection. In this sense, guest producer Brian Eno lends his unique methods to a fitting collaboration in "Digital Lion", a track that effectively combines both artists' talents into a percussive melange of ambient pop and soul. Most noticeably, the vocal processing work Blake puts in here should be industry standard. The tasteful combination of reverb and compression pervades a distinct empty auditorium vibe on tracks like "To The Last", where his voice completely takes over, dancing between an almost underwater solace and consciousness of reality seldom conveyed instrumentally.

Regardless of how well anyone can describe Blake's change in direction and forays into more progressive, atmospheric production, the real indicator of success here (and with any record) lacks quantification. The moments in life that forge the most base level emotions bear the best comparisons if any - the humanization of a hundred strangers converged upon a busy pub, laughing, crying, sharing stories, and living; the moment one bites into a piece of fruit and that split-second of pure joy; the heartbreak of distance, and the happiness of reunification. These moments are the essence of soul music, music that comes from and affects that very vessel of humanity, expounding love at its most fundamental. Overgrown is quite simply soul music in this sense, defying its own electronic classifications and galvanizing Blake's performance as important and even timeless. At its best, Overgrown brings to mind Frank Sinatra's iconic In The Wee Small Hours, a record that acts as almost a thematic analogue in its lonely tone and ultimate embrace of love as a painful yet beautiful emotion. Surprisingly, Wu-Tang's RZA brings this very insight to the fore on "Take A Fall For Me" in what is easily his best verse this side of Bobby Digital:

His heart turns cold like it was soaked in ice
Melt inside the heat of my passion, magnetic attraction
It caused a strong reaction
I need you like I need satisfaction
I need you like I need satisfaction
Don't turn away from me, what will become of me
If I can't show my love to thee there'll be none of me
You'll leave me with none of me
Not even one of me


James Blake is one of the few artists capable of taking criticism and reacting to it for the better; at this point, the twenty-four year old is already well on a path to greatness. Hopefully it continues.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Xenophanes
Emeritus
April 8th 2013



10593 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

oh man

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
April 8th 2013



16088 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

that frank sinatra comparison though

fromtheinside
April 8th 2013



18177 Comments


you are a MACHINE mister. holy shit. stop loving all music this year

Digging: Tragedy - Vengeance

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
April 8th 2013



7333 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Bought this today. Only listened once so far, but I get the impression it's going to take a while to sink in.

Excellent review as ever Sobhi!

iswimfast
April 8th 2013



1304 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

awesome read.

Digging: Cymbals Eat Guitars - LOSE

kingsoby1
Emeritus
April 8th 2013



4950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

love, hate, it's all the same thing. thanks based blake

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
April 8th 2013



10170 Comments

Album Rating: 4.4

fuck yeah, nice read Sobhi! Love what happened here.

Digging: The Contortionist - Language

iswimfast
April 8th 2013



1304 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

double post... so great needed to be said twice.

RosaParks
April 8th 2013



14890 Comments


imaginary pos

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
April 8th 2013



16088 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

"Bought this today. Only listened once so far, but I get the impression it's going to take a while to sink in."

listens once, thinks it will take a while for him to 'get it' rates it a 3 immediately

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 8th 2013



23814 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

this review is perfect but for different reasons than Lucidity's review. Together, you guys have written everything that ever needs to be said about this album.

gonna 4.5 I think, it's such a solid listen all the way through mmmmmm

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
April 8th 2013



16088 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

i think the only reason i dont think dlm is as perfect as every other song is that it comes between retrograde and digital lion and any song would feel lessened coming between perfection like that

kingsoby1
Emeritus
April 8th 2013



4950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

yeah, ali and i had a great discussion on critical style the other day tbh. he's really into lyricism and lyrical meaning, whereas i'm more into the music/ production when i write about stuff. good combination!

StrangerofSorts
Contributing Reviewer
April 8th 2013



2714 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Shit, man. I should have picked a different album to write a shitty review of :/

JumpTheF**kUp
April 8th 2013



2710 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

love your work sobhi

fromtheinside
April 8th 2013



18177 Comments


what do i rate this if i'm not going to listen to this until i have sufficient internet access again, but want to seem hip, but haven't really let it feelz me up and down, but i sorta wanna fit in which is why i have this pack of smokes and a four loko anyone?

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 8th 2013



23814 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

nah, yours was good too. it's just that Ali and Sobhi are two of my favourite writers on the site, and they both really, really get James Blake's music. No one could have done a better piece imo (again, possibly Lewis or Deviant).

You DID kinda shoot yourself in the foot with that whole "post-dubstep" thing though....

Typhoner
April 8th 2013



849 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

awesome reviews, awesome album

I'd love to mention lots of well-thought out reflections on this album but well, what aids said, pretty much.

Digging: Banks - Goddess

kingsoby1
Emeritus
April 8th 2013



4950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

thanks guys!

i think the only reason i dont think dlm is as perfect as every other song is that it comes between retrograde and digital lion and any song would feel lessened coming between perfection like that


yeah i completely agree, although it kind of acts as a nice interlude tbh

StrangerofSorts
Contributing Reviewer
April 8th 2013



2714 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

What can I say? I have two left feet and both are full of holes. Ali and Sobhi did top work fo sho. Loving the description in this review.



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