We reviewed James Blake’s Overgrown.
I didn’t jump on the James Blake bandwagon immediately. I tend to be wary of media fawning of independent albums because that usually sparks the demise before the ride has even started. I was clearly incorrect (it happens) as I discovered with Blake’s sophomore album. I had to repeat the opening track because it was so good and I never do that upon hearing a new album for the first time. There was something so unique and innate about it all, I had to go back and find out more. With the ability of producing your own music comes the luxury of fitting the right acoustics to your voice and he did this perfectly on Overgrown.
I Am Sold has a more electronic feel, percussion thanks to an 808 kit that could easily have turned into something garish and derivative but it fortunately never reaches those lows. RZA’s inclusion on Take A Fall For Me was neither superfluous nor wasted, but when would RZA ever be wasted on a track? Being one of the longest tracks on the LP and featuring the production talents of one of the greatest producers of the last 40 years, Digital Lion was always going to the most interesting. Eno’s soundscapes are effortless as always and Blake let them ride out, offering vocal input when necessary; a branch in a stream. In terms of composition, Voyeur is the most elaborate. Blake took a back seat on Digital Lion but now the stream of that track turned into a waterfal as the thumping kick and intricate percussive elements envelope his phasing vocals. The final two tracks act as a reprise, mirroring the lyrical softness of the opening songs. There’s something in his melisma that seems to soothe, even in moments of dissonance.
If you’re unfamiliar to such expansive music, near emptiness for a purpose, you might need to go back to the very beginning of James Blake’s musical journey. That’s not a criticism though; the mainstream is saturated with too much noise because of the dreaded loudness war that nobody actually asked for. Blake utilises the audio space at his disposal to great effect, stripping away everything you’d expect and replacing it with everything you’ll hope for next time. If silence is golden, James Blake’s voice is platinum. His vocals seem to traverse chords deep within. Minimal but exquisite. Succinct yet dynamic. Soft yet soulful. Blake’s audible architecture comes straight out of the Mies Van Der Rohe school of clarity in form and this will be a “go to” album for many people after the first few minutes, I’m sure. The stylistic road James Blake is travelling on doesn’t appear to have any roadblocks and I’m happy he’s having a smooth ride.