Review Summary: Time passes in the constant state
Overgrown is the second full length album by London-born artist James Blake. James Blakes' eponymous debut album released just two years prior in 2011 showed Blake experimenting with electronics and overdubs, drawing heavily from Dubstep and Garage. It'd be an injustice however to pigeonhole Blake as merely a 'Dubstep artist', as he incorporates a myriad of styles into his work, including the aforementioned Garage (Never Learnt to Share), Folk (Lindesfarne I and II), Soul (Retrograde/Limit to Your Love), R&B (Dim), and even Rap (Take a Fall for Me, which unfortunately does not feature Blake rapping, but rather Bobby Digital himself, RZA).
Instrumentally, Overgrown is chockfull of highlights, one of which being "Life Round Here" which starts with a beautiful and infectious ascending melody, produced by what I believe to be is a keyboard. "Life Round Here" also marks the beginning of a marvelous song cycle which starts with the former and ends with the pre-released single "Retrograde", boasting the catchy chorus "suddenly I'm hit!", a line you'll often find yourself singing along with when you hear the tune. "Digital Lion", produced by ambient legend Brian Eno, wears the influence proudly on its sleeve, resembling something Eno could have produced somewhere in between Music For Films from 1979 and Ambient 4: On Land from 1982, focusing more on lavish bloops and beeps rather than the lyrics themselves, which are fairly tame and lackluster compared to the rest of the album.
Lyrically is where the album truly shines. While the topics Blake covers are ubiquitous, the way he chooses to look at each is pleasant and refreshing. Take for example "Dim", a song that features just James and the piano, the two elements working perfectly in sync with each other like oiled cogs in a machine. Blake pleads with this anonymous lover to "Please / don't let me hurt you more" because he sees the pain he's causing on account of "It's in your stare and at your core" and that the "journey (will end) soon" and once it does their "lives can resume". RZA crafts some truly deft verses in the previously noted "Take a Fall for Me", where he admits that while "sex shapes the body" it's "truth that shapes the mind". RZA also delivers one of the most thoughtful verses found on Overgrown: "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". RZA's role on the album serves as an expression of the lust and fear that comes with infatuation, while Blake's seems more suitable lamenting the sorrows and professing the occasional joys that come with the feeling of love itself.
Overall this album is an equation in the truest sense. It takes equal parts of melody and sincerity to create an album that offers a combination of sounds and sentiments to the listener willing enough to offer his or herself fully to the music. Overgrown is an album that makes the listener think. Looking deep enough into the songs reveal questions about life, love, and the future; they are expressions that James Blake seems to be both asking inquisitively and stating factually at the same time. By the time Overgrown is over, you can't help but wonder "what will become of me?"