Record review: James Blake, James Blake

james blake

In another world, James Blake would be a global pop star. The goods are there; the soulful voice, the  ingénue naivety and he’s not hard to look at either. Instead, composer/producer Blake remains a 22-year-old British indie talent, a minimalist electronic artist whose classical piano training sees past influences married to modern technology.

Autotune may be the greatest evil modern music has faced since someone told metal it should add rap and call it ‘nu-metal.’ There’s a thin line between tasteful vocal modulation and T-Pain horror. Blake straddles the boundary, for as a man with the voice of a younger Arthur Russell, we could happily listen to his untouched vocals as on R&B-esque ballad Limit To Your Love.

But when he does pull in the synthesised voice, it works as another instrument in the intricate soundscapes that build in each song. See To Care (Like You), where his yearning is turned into nasal falsetto, with sparse backing. His manipulation of sound creates intriguing textures laden with an inherent pathos, whether in bass beats or the stop-start vocals of Lindisfarne, Pt 1.

It is this same contorted melding of old composition and new styles that make Blake hard to define. Though clearly influenced by dub, dance and electronic music, there is a structure within the chaos of beats and blips. It’s summed up perfectly in The Wilhelm Scream; the voice moving between natural and vocoder as he forlornly sings ‘All that I know is that I’m falling /might as well fall in.’ So just fall in and be engulfed in Blake’s world of electronic dreams and dizziness.

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