So, James Blake is set to release his much anticipated, self-titled, LP, on February 7th. The 22 year old Brit and Pitchfork darling has had the internet abuzz about him for months now after appearing on numerous year-end lists for his 2010 EPs, and especially after his debut album leaked more than a month ahead of its release. Within the realm of electronic music, this is our My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Like MBDTF, this is an album that survives on the hype, divides critics, and both ultimately, whether we like it or not, will come to define and redirect their respective genres.
Blake’s album is one of quiet contemplation and extreme consideration. It’s sparse, cold and is a severe departure from dance music, the subsection of electronic music that is arguably the most widely recognized. People seem to be generally unaware of the history of electronic music, but it hardly had its birth in the easily digestible melodies to which we’ve become accustomed. However, in a world where dubstep is gradually taking over and infiltrating the mainstream, it’s only natural that the reaction would be to pull back, to slow things down, and to grow quieter. (As an aside, Blake is simultaneously described as falling under dubstep, post-dubstep, [an idiotic moniker if you ask me] and minimal. Though genre classifications have reached a ridiculous level, I find minimal dubstep to be the most helpful descriptor for those unfamiliar with his catalog) Though many of his movements have been described as new and innovative, Blake, as a classically trained musician, is well aware of the historical references his music evokes. Harkening back to the likes of Stockhausen, and Debussy before him; Blake is highly attuned to the power of silence and it’s evident how much thought went into each and every moment of this album.
Blake’s vocals are hauntingly beautiful (an overused phrase, but entirely apt), and ever since I initially heard “Limit to You Love“, I was hooked. I revel in the moments where he’s layered over himself, becoming his own chorus, invoking gospel influences. The imperfections add authenticity, and even his heavily altered moments come off as earnest. Following LTYL, “Wilhelm Scream” was the next track I fell hard for, it’s delicate and utterly heartbreaking. There is a constant push and pull, we are being led to pay attention and simultaneously daydream. Though when you give someone a pause to think within, you also provide the option to disengage. For me it was definitely a challenge to get into this album initially, and despite the fact that I have more positive feelings about it now than when I began, I am still somewhere in the middle. Although there is much beauty to be found here, it still feels as though Blake is figuring himself out sonically, and being 22, what else would we expect? He seems to flit back and forth between ideas; at times melodic, at others almost entirely acoustic, and often painfully minimal. To me, it feels like the fusion of several EPs disguised as an LP. While I understand that he’s exploring, and almost testing, his audience, I was a bigger fan of his prior EPs (particularly CMYK), as they felt far more cohesive, and frankly, accessible. At the end of the day, I find myself feeling the same way I did about MBDTF. I see the leaps that Blake is making as an artist, and acknowledge the undeniable glimmers of brilliance, but I know that he can do even better. I guess that’s my way of saying I’m excited for the future.