James Blake, James Blake

Ilya Zinger

By Ilya Zinger

on 02.09.11 in Reviews

James Blake

James Blake

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.

Laments delivered via slow croon and carefully-mapped piano stabs

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.