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: