"James Blake" by James Blake

James Blake
James Blake

Atlas Recordings
2011

Review

This album is sparse, downtempo Soul created with electronic instruments. I put it in the Soul category in spite of the fact that James Blake seems to be finding his audience from fans of the Electronic genre. It makes sense given the electronic instruments that are used to make the music, however, it is most definitely something that Soul fans with an open mind can appreciate.

No song on the album demonstrates that principal better than "The Wilhelm Scream". Jakes Blake sings like the white Jeffrey Osborne. He manages to squeeze out plenty of emotion with very few lyrics.

I don't know about my dreams
I don't about dreaming anymore
All that I know is that I'm falling

I say sparse because there really are very few elements at work in each of the songs. Lyrically it's more about conveying a feeling than really trying to get into any sort of deep poetry. But it's really effective.

For fans of trippy beat scene music, this might be a bit too low-key. It's definitely come down music. "I Never Learnt to Share" is yet another exercise in the effectiveness of "less is more". Here are the lyrics to the song:

My brother and sister don't speak to me/but I don't blame them

These words sung soulfully are backed by a constantly changing assortment of sounds that evolve over time to a huge climax of beat scene goodness (bits, bleeps, heavy reverb and bass).

It's when the electronic bits get stripped out of the equation that I lose interest. And that's a shame. It's not that James Blake is a bad singer or that somehow these acoustic interludes are terrible, it's just that it the electronic backing band (however sparse) is very much a force to be recokoned with. So take that away and you something less than amazing. "Lindisfarne I" and "Lindisfarne II" are good examples of this as is "Give Me My Month". I mean, these songs would probably kill live as songs to break up the tempo of a live performance, but there's just not enough here to sustain the entire song.

"To Care (Like You)" is another deceptively simple song. It's strange how something as simple and sparse as this can be effective here and be so much less so elsewhere and on this particular song it is amazing. But on "Lindisfarne" and "Give Me My Month" not so much. There's less here than on those songs and for me it comes down to engagement. "To Care" manages to engage the listener with it's ambient sustained core and subtle mix of percussion and vocal arrangements.

...as the title of this post says,you can call this electronic music, but I know better. This is an evolution of the Soul music sound and fans of the Flying Lotus produced songs off of the Jose James album are going to be all over this one.

4.182 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Unluck (03:00) 5
2. The Wilhelm Scream (04:37) 5
3. I Never Learnt to Share (04:51) 5
4. Lindisfarne I (02:42) 3
5. Lindisfarne II (03:01) 3
6. Limit to Your Love (04:36) 5
7. Give Me My Month (01:56) 3
8. To Care (Like You) (03:52) 5
9. Why Don't You Call Me (01:35) 3
10. I Mind (03:31) 5
11. Measurements (04:19) 4