Album Review: James Blake – James Blake

It looks like 2011 is gearing up to be another Year Of The Bedroom Producer—you know, those musicians who manipulate instruments and drum machines and midi sounds into bona fide homemade music. But the format is getting an upgrade, thanks to 22-year-old British producer, singer, and soon-to-be pop star James Blake. On his self-titled debut, the hotly anticipated follow-up to last year’s beloved CMYK and Klavierwerke EPs, Blake offers up challenging, graceful, fully conceptualized songs written and recorded in his bedroom.

Blake gained popularity as a dubstep producer, and there are obvious nods to that on this record. But despite his use of room-rattling bass and two-step-inducing percussion, James Blake is a progression from the heavy, murky genre that originated in Croydon and has spread throughout the globe over the past decade. More than dubstep, James Blake sounds like very calculated pop music. On songs like “To Care (Like You)” and “I Never Learnt To Share” and the forthcoming single “Wilhelms Scream,” every pause, stutter, breathy vocal is accounted for and serves a purpose. Nothing is accidental.

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And the effect of that is evident. The album is cold and electronic, yet soulful and deeply emotional. With the repetition of lyrics like “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me/But I don’t blame them” (on “I Never Learnt To Share”) and “Why don’t you call me?/When we both know what I am” (on “Why Don’t You Call me”) layered over dark, haunting synths and piano riffs, Blake knows exactly what he’s doing: breaking hearts. Still, as the songs transition from down-tempo ballads into more upbeat, syncopated rhythms, there is a sense of hopefulness to his melancholy.

Blake is very much making music for himself, but there’s nothing selfish about it. On the contrary: making somber, personal songs appeal to complete strangers is a difficult task, but Blake is done it pretty impressively. Like Bon Iver before him, the loneliness on this album is not off-putting—it is inviting.

It’s only January, but I’m fairly certain James Blake will make it on many of the year’s best-of lists. It’s definitely secured a place on mine.