Music is changing all the time. Now, if you’re reading this, then the part of your brain that ejects sarcastic remarks is probably overloading. “I had NO idea music changes, Becca. Thank you SO much for telling me” is just an example of one. But seriously, that redundant statement isn’t there to taunt anyone, it’s there because a new album is about to drop and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard (in a good way). Prepare yourselves for James Blake.
After making every Pitchfork, BBC and NPR “Best of 2010” list for the 3 extended plays he released, Blake is finally about to release his self-title debut album on February 7th. Did I mention he accomplished all of this immediately after graduating The Latymer School in London? He’s only 21.
Electronic music lovers, get ready for your head to explode. The composer’s arrangements are minimal but also layered. It’s a dish of both dubstep and classical, with a side of R&B. Not to sound contradictory by any means- it’s hard finding the words for something new. Pitchfork described it as, “grinding, mechanical soul.” NPR puts it as “syncopated rhythm mixed with weathered croon,” and good ‘ol Wikipedia categorizes Blake under: Dubstep, Minimal, Ambient and Pop.
Honestly, each of these descriptions turned me off. Reading them makes it seem like he’s some above-it-all musical god whose goal is transcending the conventional norms. Trying to change “music” just for the sake of changing it normally fails; then, you look like an asshole while failing. Point being, Blake did not fail. He successfully created an album so versatile that you could describe it as anything and not be wrong. “Electronic” is just the string that ties the LP together, making it a fluid package that, when listening to it, will break your heart and melt your soul. Also, I really hope he’s not an asshole (and that we could, one day, get married in a beautiful field).
His classical training is easily noticed throughout 11 tracks. His piano background erupts towards the end of the album in “Give me My Mouth” and “Why Don’t You Call Me.” These are the most “traditional” pieces, comprised mostly, of just his deep, jazzy vocals, both raw and pitch shifted, as well as his famously passionate piano arrangements. In “I Never Learnt To Share” it became apparent that one of Blake’s greatest assets in this album is his use of blank space. It’s pauses aren’t awkward, they are personal. It’s the first album since For Emma: Forever Ago that I literally miss when I’m not listening to it.
If your not willing or able to get this album before February 7th, I highly suggest you pre-order it, and listen to his EP’s: Air & Lack Thereof, The Bells Sketch, CMYK, and Klavierwerke available in both vinyl and digital download. But if you do get your hands on James Blake, I would absolutely love to hear how you describe his unique sound.