22 year old classically trained pianist James Blake finally releases his self-titled debut album. Following his critically acclaimed CMYK and Klavierwerke EP’s, he stays true to the sound of Klavierwerke where he first displayed his vocal abilities, but except from that obvious similarity, this album takes a leap away from his post-whatever sound. “Purists” might be disappointed, but those with an open mind will now embrace him even more. It’s a compact album, 11 tracks over 38 minutes, that will immediately makes you search for the repeat button. His production is full of fuzz and static noise, twined with organic keys and a brutal sub-bass. His voice sits comfortably over sharp rim shots and delayed snares. The tracks are build and then often fade out without a climax. There’s silence between Blake’s lines, which makes his production intimate and spacious at the same time.
The album opener “Unluck” is in the same soulful vein as the first single from the album, “Limit To Your Love,” but it’s a slow builder with traces of digital RnB, so his Dubstep fans (what is Dubstep nowadays anyway?) isn’t totally scared away from first listen. It ends abruptly before moving over to “The Wilhelm Scream,” the second single. It’s so painfully gentle, and one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Building organs over a deep haunting bass and simple repeating lyrics where he shows off great vocal capabilities. The song gradually builds into white noise, but then comes down and beautifully fades out. “I Never Learnt To Share” follows, building from a soulful intro where he chants “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me, but I don’t blame them,” to a wall of futuristic electronics and mutated sounds. On the next two tracks “Lindesfarne I” and “Lindesfarne II,” he moves into vocoded Imogen Heap territory, backed by an echoing Bon Iver choir.
“Limit To Your Love” needs no introduction, the cover of a song by Feist took everyone by surprise, Blake’s heartfelt vocal is placed in front over his piano playing and a brutally deep bass bouncing in the right places. “To Care (Like You)” is a beautiful track with its chopped up and glitchy helium-induced gospel vocals, with production reminiscent of fellow Londoners Mount Kimbie. “Why Don’t You Call Me” could have been a quasi-emo Folk tune like the pretentious “Give Me My Month” with its lo-fi piano playing and background hiss, but halfway through, it turns ghostly and atmospheric with high pitched vocals and spacious sounds. “I Mind” is one of the strongest cuts from the album, building from a slow start on the piano and repeated echoing words, to an amazing simple and bouncing beat and then fading out with deep warm piano-organ tones. Album closer “Measurements” is as simple and complex as any Acapella Gospel choir song, but with a touch of his warm electric organ and soulful layered vocals. A perfect ending to an indefinable album.
The young studio maverick has given us something entirely new, but it’s not perfect. It’s not an inconsistent album, but it has a few unnecessary fillers. His unrestricted, deconstructed, sparse and minimal productions are unique and he deserves all the hype surrounding him. We will no longer have the likes of James Blake and fellow 22 year old wonderboy Nicolas Jaar to ourselves anymore, but we don’t mind as long as they make pop music more exciting. This is literarily android soul, and it might have Janelle Monáe rethink her alter ego.