What made James Blake such an exciting new discovery last year and eagerly anticipated artist this year is the kind of suspense he’s built up through each of his three EPs released in 2010. The cinematic space-age paranoia of The Bells Sketch set the stage perfectly for the deconstructed genre-bending breakthrough of CMYK, both EPs demonstrating Blake’s deft hand at handling complexity and willingness to upset the flow of things.
Seen in that light, ending the year with the more laid-back Klavierwerke might have almost sounded like a step backwards. However, this was arguably the EP that made the most progress in bringing together Blake’s musical distinctives and making them stick. At the same time, as his most organic work thus far, it also lifted the veil slightly in giving us a glimpse of the person behind that shape-shifting sound.
With his finally-released debut album, James Blake pulls a rather shocking move of baring himself totally, even if the cover art remains as that now familiar but still enigmatic self-portrait, albeit in a cooler shade of blue. The songs, by no means simple, actually sound like proper songs, and his voice, once processed and chopped up at will, now lies naked for most part. And the presumed temptation to meet the hype with more tricks seems to have quite an opposite effect, with vast expanses of emptiness timed and situated perfectly.
It’s a gamble that could so easily backfire. And it almost does. Listening to songs like “I Never Learnt to Share”, I discover the secret of how much Blake loves and surely adores Antony Hegarty. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s just too vulnerable, and I feel I now know too much. Yet, I’m forced to overcome my own awkwardness when faced with the immediacy and sheer gorgeousness in the intricate details of tracks like “The Wilhelm Scream”, a stirring personal vignette about falling and turning that subtly lifts you off the ground along with it. – Dan.
James Blake’s self titled debut is out now on Universal Republic.