James Blake - Overgrown
You may recall that dubstep and post-dubstep were the next big thing in the mainstream a couple of years ago. Despite being the original poster boy of the genre and tagged “one to watch” back in 2011, James Blake’s self-titled debut album wasn’t particularly commercial, despite selling in reasonable numbers. In fact, arguably the only really mainstream track was his big single ‘Limit To Your Love’. In the two years since that debut he’s toured the world, played big festivals, had a resident DJ slot, met his idol (Joni Mitchell) and fallen in love. Maybe all this is what’s made him comfortable making a less abrasive and more even second album. Don’t think that means it’s any more mainstream though.
Overgrown is a collection of bass beats, signature cut glass vocals (no over-production this time), electronic whirs and heartfelt words. The eponymous title track and album opener is a slow burner, with soft vocals giving a sense of gentleness before the bass builds and fades. ‘I Am Sold’ has a touch of Portishead about it with it’s relentless soft cymbals and echoey, alien vocals floating through the track. RZA from Wu Tang Clan guests on ‘Take A Fall For Me’ bringing with him a different feel, with Blake’s sounds and voice playing second fiddle to his rap.
That voice comes back to the fore on ‘Retrograde’ which throbs loudly with a wall of synths in the centre of the track. It’s another song that builds to a crescendo before ending as it began, quiet and simple, the voice fading to nothing. Piano and an almost choirish vocal carries ‘DLM’ before ‘Digital Lion’ flips it back to electronica and those dubstep beats. After a minute or so of loops ‘Voyeur’ becomes the album’s most openly dancey track as rhythm and beats drive it onwards. Ending with the elegant and emotional ‘To The Last’ and 'Our Love Comes Back' Blake introduces a lightness not seen elsewhere on the LP.
Overall, Blake’s sophomore effort is a bold statement, somehow very different from his first album, yet familiar in many ways. Maybe the difference is due to the new influences in his life or the outside influences he's introduced to the music, such as Brian Eno on 'Digital Lion'. More than likely it’s a bit of both. Certainly he’s more confident in his voice; it’s clear and crisp and leading the way on most tracks, not hidden behind layers of production as in 2011. The mood throughout is soft and relaxed, with the exception of those walls of noise he builds sporadically. He’s come through this second album in really good shape; it seems his experiences over the last couple of years have given him a belief that filters through each track and brought a new found maturity to his sound.