When I asked what albums readers were loving early in 2011, England-based James Blake’s full-length stood out in numerous reader comments. If you haven’t already seen him plugged on radio and online – and at least some of you haven’t yet – it’s a perfect time to check him out, with the full-length this week available for digital download even outside the UK. Blake made a name for himself in some astonishing EPs over 2010, with a haunting but fragile voice singing soulful melodies atop minimal percussion and warm, fuzzy keys in close-fingered voicings. Now, his full-length is here. If you needed someone to tell you to listen to it, you certainly would have no problem finding a blog — or five hundred – to do so. But what strikes me is that the self-titled James Blake is something readers say they are giving repeated – and I mean repeated – listening. That’s when any hype or popular opinion melts away, and it’s just the intimacy of you and a record. And it’s an experience that, amidst plentiful access to music today, has never been more valuable.

Apologies if any of these videos refuse to play in your country because of odd licensing restrictions. (No soup for you!)

With all that hype, of course, some of the reviews of the album have been less than spectacular. Some of the best tracks, like “CMYK,” were on previous EPs and not here – and it’s well worth giving those releases a try alongside the full-length. I’m personally in no need to hear any more applications of pitch correction, ironic or otherwise – the effect that was for me utterly magical in the hands of Bon Iver now seems a sort of cliche, and those to me are the weakest tracks on this collection. Call it hipster AutoTune. Anyway, even with lo-fidelity digital effects part of the aesthetic, and successfully so, you don’t want anything standing between you and James Blake’s lovely voice. When it does come out, the album shines.

I say give it a listen yourself, and forget that anyone has hyped this. What some people criticized as weak songwriting I find to be part of the appeal. Absent hooks and willfully earnest, the melodies are often sparse fragments, repeated as though a sentence trailed off. At its best moments, it’s something really unique. BBC has removed some of the excellent live performance videos; I’ve included one candidate below before it goes, too, though the official video is nice, as well.

BBC did leave an official, and excellent, interview:

Let us know what you think. I’d love to hear a track-by-track review and not just broad strokes, perhaps from someone other than me. (I’m in my head all the time.)

Enjoy, and have a great weekend.


Adding a remix here, thanks to reader John Meredith:

  • This video contains content of UMG and cannot be played in your country.

    Fuck copyright!

  • Peter Kirn

    @pulsn: Which video? (and really, YouTube does that?)

  • agreed. i loved the ep's and expected more of that future soul goodness on the lp. what i got was unexpected and in a way, to me, seemed to defy the expectations i think everyone else was having. he seems to be doing exactly what he wants to do (if i can even assume that) and it is good.

  • digid

    The Wilhelm Scream is one of the best songs I've heard in ages (ok, the new Radiohead that was released today isn't so bad either!) – absolutely fantastic. Rest of the album is very, very nice, too …

    Some of it reminds me of Jamie Lidell's early stuff with Supercollider, which is a good thing.

  • digid

    Oh, and this Vimeo-version plays everywhere:


  • Electronic Face

    I feel silly for not having heard of James Blake before now. It could be a good thing I've managed to avoid any hyping, though, because I really enjoyed those songs above.
    Minimal, but with a lot of feeling. I really dig that styling. Young Marble Giants had it and I love 'em for it, so I'm always happy to discover more music in a similar (but not same) vein. Thanks, Peter.

  • Peter Kirn

    Don't feel silly at all. The full length has only been out here in the US for a few days.

    I was only making reference to the explosion of interest on the Web, BBC, radio, etc. It *is* (seriously) easy to be out of tune with some of those outlets on one hand, or to be overwhelmed on the other. So I'm always gratified if people appreciate what I can share here!

  • I forgot to turn off the new Amplifier EP while watching the video. When I turned off foobar I realized it's much more minimalistic than I thought – don't know if I like it although I'm a the xx fan.

  • The New album is gold! Check out our remix of To Care (Like You), free download!


  • Max

    I loooooooove Feist. So when I first heard the Limit To Your Love cover on the radio I wanted to hate it.
    But I have to admit it's actually quite good.

  • Devin

    Talented producer, he may be, but I can't possibly be the only person who is overwhelmed by superfluous use of autotune when trying to enjoy the admittedly very delicious sounding tunes behind it?! Honestly, I can't get past it. 

  • Peter Kirn

    @Devin: Yes, made doubly frustrating by the fact that he's such a damned good singer. Speaking as a lesser singer… 😉

    I really enjoyed the effect with Bon Iver, as it does become melodic, and I'm not tiring of that record. But here… yeah, I wish we had interactive apps where we could "remix" the vocals raw again. Wait for more live performances? An unplugged version of this album?

  • Fragile, soulful minimalism.  Because critics all over love this stuff for being experimental and yet oh-so-human.  Talented, but not tremendously exciting, I say.  I don't particularly enjoy hearing the same vocal non-hooks over sub-commodore synthery.

  • super cake


    random remix i found on soundcloud, pretty sick

  • i think this young gentleman is a breath of fresh air and I’m really excited to see what his future is going to look like in music.

  • Never heard of him, sorry.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, you've heard of him now. 😉 Yeah, realized the lead could be read the wrong way as I wrote it, so edited it. There's so much music out there that even things with a lot of exposure can be easily missed, certainly by me included.

  • Thanks a lot for the discover, really enjoy all this work, love the the minimalism, specially the drums one and and the soul of all the songs . will certainly listen the full album.

  • I don't really like his style and the way he edits his voice. IDK, it doesn't catch me…

  • Random Chance

    Last week someone mentioned the Album to me so I listened to some songs. I don't get what all the excitement is about. Maybe if I were still taking certain substances I might be convinced that this one is a good soundtrack for an evening that goes up in smoke. But is it soul? No. The excessive vocal edits ruin it for me. Maybe he's a good singer? I can't tell. He looks reasonably good, but I don't think he's popular just because he has the same initials as a certain Justin Bieber and is young, but because he mixes pseudo-soul and minimal beats/textures (two things that still seem to be very popular) with lyrics that evoke teenage angst. Also I don't believe he deliberately planned all this in order to become a hit, but I could imagine that someone might have thought that combining certain popular elements would result in something that sells well.

    Bottom line for me: When it comes to Blakes, I prefer Tim for synth music, and William for poetry.

  • The single on the first video is good but the album is not that great for me.. too much voice edits could end in an autotune abuse style…
    Dunno if i'm wrong but the idea of "autotuning= not much talent" is ruining me the listening of the album
    He has a good voice so maybe it would be good to hear it clear

    I can see why he sent his album to a Dubstep label, his soulish vocals could be very good in a burial-like production – shift him up of course

  • PK…you such a romantic.

    is this a demo of a new reverb-voice-processor ?…

    should I buy The Mouth ?

    "I don't know about my dreams anymore…"
    did he say love too ?

    the lyrics are a staggering example of originality too.

  • digid

    "Maybe he’s a good singer? I can’t tell."

    Ah, reductionism – thou never seizes to amaze. Obviously he has a good voice, if you can't hear that you shouldn't be asking that question. I guess it was asked as a rhetorical question because Blake loves to dip his voice into effects and experiment with it, but, no, that doesn't mean his voice suddenly becomes bad. It just means he does something other with his voice than just croon or show off. Thom Yorke does it all the time, why not Blake.

    I don't have problems with people not liking this (we are different, after all), but the cynicism displayed by random chance does nothing to evoke sympathy for that particular point of view.

    (and, yeah, I'm sure he'll sell just as much as Bieber … or, not at all. He just sold out a venue in Oslo that takes about 200 people. So far he hasn't sold out Wembley or Royal Albert Hall).

  • program

    thanks for the James Blake tip! cause this guy could sure could use some more promotion!!!!

    i mean, really… with every media outlet in the known universe hyping & featuring this kid as the new big thing, did we really need another damn article on him here? i'm tired of this guy being shoved down my throat with very mouseclick. why not feature some people who don't have a huge promotional machine behind them instead?

    his voice drives me up a wall, and all the little fidgety glitches, scritches, bleeps, and bloops in the world isn't going to change that. the only reason anyone is talking about him is because a couple years ago he discovered Ableton Live and ran his crappy lounge music thru it.

    ps: mark my words – this guy is going to get MORE traditional sounding with every subsequent release. kiss all those scritches goodbye. 2 albums down the road he's going to sound just like Daniel Powter.

    true genius: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-ehllI7Jts

  • program:  It's amazing how different people have different media exposure. I for one have never heard of James Blake before this.

    I also don't particularly care for his music, but I still appreciate CDM pointing out music I *might* like.

    As for JB I think being more traditional-sounding would be good for him, and I say this as someone who owns every album Autechre ever made.  A little acoustic guitar or piano and equally minimal, jazzy drums would really work better with is voice.

  • F F

    @digid, after your comment i looked for the super collider, didn't know them, i knew just the liddel solo stuff. The super collider albums are really great! thanks for the connection! 

  • Must be the same people who like burial. It all seems so overrated to me. I guess i'm oblivious when it comes to dubstep.

  • loopstationzebra

    I wonder if picking out that jacket he wears in the video took him longer than selecting those WRETCHED drum sounds in the 1st half of the song?

  • loopstationzebra

    I thought Thom Yorke was the highest form of pasty white English delicate self-important wankery that we'd ever see.

    I was wrong.

  • databot

    After reading all these comments, I feel dirty for liking this music. I could do without the vocals, but I really like the music itself.

    What's wrong with sparse introspective music? 
    Are the hardcore techno trolls out of their cages again?

    P.S. Connor Oberst called, he wants back his haircut from James Blake and the interviewer.

  • strunkdts

    Mt Kimbie, FTW!!!!!
    James Blake, the future is good.

  • Random Chance

    Just for laughs, two comments on two comments:

    "Obviously he has a good voice, if you can’t hear that you shouldn’t be asking that question."

    This is interesting on many levels, I'll just pick one: "If you don't agree with my judgement you have no business talking about the object of discourse." Sounds to me like the bad kind of teacher, for instance those who ruined music lessons in school for many of my peers because they insisted that their interpretation was right (without giving reasons of course).

    "I don’t have problems with people not liking this (we are different, after all), but the cynicism displayed by random chance does nothing to evoke sympathy for that particular point of view."

    You might really not care about people not liking this release as you profess but it seems to me that you very much have a problem with people who disagree with your verdict. Does this kind of argumentation employed in the cited post evoke sympathy for the point of view? Not in my book, but maybe others will feel differently. In the end it does not count, because having and voicing and opinion (even a very subjective one governed by personal taste) is not about making friends with strangers on the Internet, is it?

    Thanks, Mr. digid for being very entertaining on this slow Monday (and please in your own interest try no to take everything a stranger who does not care about your opinion at all, but maybe about how you try to express it, on the Web writes so damn seriously). 😀

  • pierlu

    JAmes Blake is not the future… there's a lot of thought in what he does, it's not so fresh…
    Zoo Kid is fresh: no electronics no voice edits, just a guitar and a singing voice… check him out here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9wLrAtcd6Y even tho I like the song better if I don't watch the video, cos he being 16 with the voice of a 20some is kinda weird to watch for me

  • netchaiev

    Certainly one of my fav record of the moment. Can't get enough of it. Like Matthew Dear either!

  • Simon

    Never been so sick of someone before the release of their first album.

  • kabeef

    A turd in cotton cloaks….honestly, do we need more of this?

  • loopstationzebra

    Well, honestly, for some truly amazing introspective buzz and bleep and mondo bizarro haunting ambient textures one only needs to check out the last 2 David Sylvian albums (3 if you include his Nine Horses band project). Far more interesting, far more bold, far more daring, far more mature, far more boundary pushing. lol.

    I just don't get the UBER HARD SHILLING of this artist on CDM. lol

  • Bendish

    I'll take some Jamie Woon over Blake anyday….check the brer out…listenable…soulful….no gimmicks….

    Shout out to the puny white boy middle class dub steppers!!! Buka buka!

  • Doccish

    The tune that got my attention by him a year or so ago was Sparring the Horses. As a child of Garage, and now a homme de la 'step, I couldn't sit still when I heard the tune. When the bassline dropped for the first time I couldn't tell you what colour the sky was. My brain was mutataed chowder. The second time, I did an ollie over my desk in my wheelie chair. I didn't know where it was going, but I loved where he was taking me. He uses hacked up samples from all over the gaff on it so I'd like to here a bit more of that! Still, better than that plodding Jamie XX stuff. And Jamie Woon is dope too. Burial Remix: mmmmm (Gonna change my name to Jim James to see if it improves my music.)

  • Doccish

    Just to add if you don't have a decent pair of speakers near by don't click this: choon

  • Heard a little about this guy just recently. Finally gave it a listen. Pretty interesting. Gonna check out more of him now. Definitely has a different sound going

  • lotta jello in the comments! seriously though? this guy is making great music that is pushing things forward while still being digestible by many ears. i would love to hear the hater's music! i think mr. blake deserves all the attention he gets, i cannot name a single person who has transcended underground dance music to such successful pop music on opposite ends of the spectrum while maintaining a consistent and unique voice. have you heard his harmonimix stuff??!? his remixes for hemlock?!?! and A/B it with "wilhelm scream" the maida vale version… no one has shown versatility like him. please prove me wrong because i want to hear these other prodigies.  IM TALKIN MODERN MUSIC. we all know who the greats were…