Up-and-coming electronic artist James Blake’s self-titled debut album is due for official release on Feb. 7. Meanwhile, fans — or those of us who are just curious about the hype surrounding the British musician — can enjoy the album (if they can find it).
Blake’s work up until this point, including three EPs in 2010 alone, has been heralded as a new world order for those of us whose musical tastes live in the overlap of dubstep and indie rock with R&B. Even as someone who enjoys all of those genres, James Blake has taken me a while to unravel.
The first track of the album, “Unluck,” is a great example of how not straightforward Blake’s music can be. Slow, synthesized piano plays under bursts of static. Blake’s voice cuts in and out — more strange than haunting — and synthesized to the point of inaudibility. It takes time for the overlapping tracks to settle into a rhythm, but it does happen eventually.
Though songs like “Unluck” can be described as dubstep, much of Blake’s other music is more jazzy than anything. “Wilhelms Scream” is beautifully melodic and easy on the ears (although calling it easy listening would be a crime against Kenny G). Blake’s gentle-sounding, soulful voice rises above the quiet drum machine and keyboard.
Blake’s music is encompassing and soothing, but not necessarily something to dance to, which goes against basic expectations when it comes to dubstep and electronic music. In short, even with a rising number of dubstep remixes of R&B songs in the past year, Blake’s music sounds a little left-of-center.
Perhaps a more appropriate way of saying it is to say that Blake’s work is unique, although he cites influences like The xx. The xx’s slow tempo and repetition of single lines of lyrics to compose a whole song echo throughout Blake’s album.
One of the best tracks on the album is Blake’s cover of “The Limit to Your Love,” a Feist original. His cover strips down the natural beauty of the original and replaces it with something synthesized yet just as remorseful and just as effective.
Overall, I would recommend giving Blake a listen, whether you wait until his album’s official release or not. Although James Blake’s music is not necessarily entertaining, it is interesting. He’s steps ahead of everyone else, making this album leak an apt metaphor. Intentional or not, James Blake is a glimpse of the future.