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For over a decade the deep, dark and rolling sound of dubstep has bubbled underground in the London electronic scene, but never quite spilled into the mainstream consciousness.

Enter James Blake.

At just 22 years of age, young James Blake is the post-dubstep world’s Great White Hope. In the space of little more than a year, he has released a string of critically acclaimed singles and EPS, and managed to get himself voted runner-up in the BBC ‘Sound of 2011’ poll. Not bad for a tender-footed producer who, just 14 months ago, hadn’t released his first note.

And so, we turn our attention to an album that has been hyped to almost Messianic proportions. Whatever expectations you may have for this nascent producer wunderkind, be prepared to leave them at the door. Here, James Blake the producer has reinvented himself as something closer to James Blake the crooner: no longer does he ply 90’s R&B for vocal samples, when his own voice more than suffices. Possessed of a warm and controlled tenor, Blake has placed his singing front and center on the album. So assured is his transition from sequencing to singing that his cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” and album-closer “Measurements” sound almost Starbucks-ready.

But the majority of James Blake’s vocals aren’t used to tell linear narratives. Lyrics tend to be no longer than 5 lines, repeated ad nauseum until they burn themselves into your brain. “The Wilhelm Scream” and “I Never Learnt to Share” build dizzying and noisome crescendos by employing vocal tracks as circular motifs; “To Care (Like You)” and the mini-masterpiece “Why Don’t You Call Me” shift, stretch and warp Blake’s voice into something hauntingly beautiful.

At times, the album may sound stylistically disjointed: this is an illusion. No longer simply content to play by the rules of others, James Blake has constructed his own private rulebook. Any initial confusion that besets the first-time listener is merely the brain trying to come to terms with a new musical vocabulary. But resist the temptation to flee and the reward is a listening experience coloured in beautifully austere longing. Make no mistake – this is an album that proceeds on its own terms.

James Blake
James Blake

[Atlas/A&M; 2011]

Rating: 4.2/5
Styles: Electronic, dubstep, R&B, pop, experimental, indie
Similar Artists: Mount Kimbie, Antony & the Johnsons, Jamie Lidell, Feist, Joy Orbison

– Mark Cheng

James Blake official website http://jamesblakemusic.com/
James Blake Myspace http://www.myspace.com/jamesblakeproduction

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