Young, talented and unabashedly experimental, James Blake is in an enviable position these days. In a little more than a year, while still attending University, Blake's become the go-to guy for consistently mind-expanding dubstep production — especially the absence of new material from Burial and Hyperdub's output reduced to a slow churn. In 2010, Blake's two EPs, CMYK and Klavierwerke, were brash attempts at exploring the relatively young sub-genre: manipulating an Aaliyah sample on "CMYK" — awash in synths and effects — and opting for the intimate and minimal on "I Only Know (What I Know Now)" — which predicted the sound of this, his first full-length.
James Blake is full of ballads, Blake's laments delivered via his slow croon and carefully-mapped piano stabs. His move from the heavy use of samples and the wonky percussion of previous work to the studied singer-songwriter structure of opening track, "Unluck" — where the beat barely leaks out from beneath the slow chords and Blake's frail, pitched up vocals — feel like growing pains. If you're a nostalgic, you may hear the welcome textures of '90s trip-hop; there are nods to the dark intensity of Burial's Untrue in the melody and melancholy of "The Wilhelm Scream." Like Burial, Blake is rethinking the role of a producer, straddling the line between stereotypical expectations of electronic music — whether danceable or not — and the ability to use dubstep as a medium for songwriting, moving from the piano ballad "Why Don't You Call Me" to the rhythmic cut-up-and-sampled style of "To Care (Like You)." When "Measurements," the closing track, abruptly ends, there's a feeling of both optimism and sadness. Blake's ear for understatement, both in sound and in repetitive, self-conscious lyrics, engages an audience the way a great soul album might.