Thursday, February 17, 2011

James Blake: "James Blake" Review — A

Originally published for The Maneater 

Looking back over 2010, James Blake covered a whole lot of ground in a very short time, releasing a new EP almost quarterly.

And while his varying EPs did a great job at advertising Blake's multi-faceted production chops, they also displayed just how ambitious Blake is with his music, trying out new styles and techniques with each EP. The new year brings a Blake that's finally ready to play with a complete studio album — he's practiced and experimented, and now the London dub-stepper stands prepared to unveil his first full album, the self-titled James Blake.

There's a very tranquil quality that echoes through Blake's debut. The intrinsic layering of the production arranged with heart-breaking voice of Blake, stirs the mind both with emotional unease and satisfaction. In "Lindisfarne I," Blake somehow manages to make auto-tuning sound soothing to the ear. There's freshness to Blake's music, and while the sound might be sparse, an emotional intensity still looms throughout the album.

Blake's production drips with the genius of an unconventional scientist. He takes the aspects of other genres — thunderous back drums of dance music, beats that'd usually be found on a rap album, auto-tuning — and mixes them into a calming blend of emotionally taught music. The build up to the climax of "I Never Learnt to Share" develops to one of the most stirring culminations of any song in recent years, reaching the point of comparability to the beginning of LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean."

It's a rare occurrence that an artist can pump out music at break-neck speed without comprising quality, but somehow Blake has mastered the art of quick, smart production. Blake's debut is a breath of fresh air, and more than that proves the extent of Blake's musical genius and shows he's quite a bit more than just a producer — he's a pioneer.

Joel Samson Berntsen (Good Moanin - Dead Meadow)

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