Wednesday 10 April 2013

James Blake - Overgrown

One of the major criticisms of James Blake's 2011 debut was that amongst all the dub-step tricks and production wizardry, the songs themselves were limited.  It's something that Blake has clearly taken into consideration with 'Overgrown', his second album.  This is a less experimental collection of songs that leans more heavily on his dance influences.  As a result, this is a more accessible album than his debut.

Yet perhaps 'Overgrown' feels more accessible because Blake is now such an established act.  Where 'James Blake' was initially an exciting thrill due to his unique creativity, we are now somewhat desensitised to his style.  Here, Blake has delivered exactly what we expect and in some respects this is a negative.  With less room for creativity, there are less standout tracks.  Nothing here quite matches the magic of Limit To Your Love or The Wilhelm Scream.

What Blake has achieved, however, is a far more consistent album, with less experimentation and minimalist warbling.  The beats are stronger, providing greater impetus to drive the record along and the instrumentation as a whole is fuller, whilst retaining his skeletal production.  By streamlining his sound, his beautifully soulful vocal has more clarity rather than being drowned in computer techniques.

Where lead single Retrograde is typical Blake material, tracks such as Voyeur and Digital Lion have a much stronger club/house feel than his past work.  Elsewhere, the production is much richer (on Blake's scale at least) with more complex textures filled with moments of spectral beauty, memorable melodic lines and newfound strength in his vocal: on the title track, I Am Sold and To The Last in particular.  The only major departure is on Take A Fall For Me that includes a jarring and unexpected rap from RZA.

In short, Blake has refined his sound to create a mature and accomplished second album.  Far from overgrown, Blake has simply grown up.  As he sings on I Am Sold, "we lay nocturnal" - 'Overgrown' is a series of nocturnes as dark and frighteningly beautiful as the night sky.


Gizzle's Choice:
* I Am Sold
* Retrograde
* Voyeur

Listen: 'Overgrown' is available now.