mon 27/09/2021

CD: James Blake - James Blake | reviews, news & interviews

CD: James Blake - James Blake

CD: James Blake - James Blake

Bright new talent displays huge aptitude but is sometimes curiously unengaging

James Blake's "Limit to Your Love" was a bolt out of the blue at the end of last year, perhaps even a quantum leap in soul'n'bass culture in the same way that Massive Attack or Roni Size once were. This fact was swiftly acknowledged in various New Face of 2011 polls which Blake started cropping up in.

The 22-year-old from Enfield had quietly built a respectable reputation with some of dubstep's deepest heads (such as Ramadanman and Mount Kimbie) but his way with a keyboard on "Limit to Your Love" had a Spartan Classicism that was strikingly stark, different and effective, particularly combined with his cracked, plaintive vocals.

Blake's album takes things a step further but, while he's clearly technically talented, it also opens the door to a world of prog tinkering and avant-garde electronic noodle, which is to say it's cerebral and not especially red-blooded. Many, however, will be emotionally convinced by the deep seriousness of tone throughout and, of course, the vocal vulnerability on display. Tunes such as the a cappella "Lindesfarne I" are so delicate, floating elegantly in silence, that they appear to be about to flicker out of existence. There is much treatment of vocals and quietly impressive sonic jiggery-pokery, yet overall it has more in common with Bon Iver or Antony and the Johnsons than anything on Ninja Tune. Whether this is a plus or not is open to debate.

James Blake's debut smartly bridges the worlds of the Wire-reading beard-stroker and the urbane admirer of authentic alt-soul. A few songs, such as the gospel-tinged "Measurements", hint at real pop suss but there is something slightly Ivory Tower-bound about it all. In many ways Blake is redolent of Jamie Lidell, another multitalented musican who has travelled far down similar highways. It remains to be seen if the general public will embrace him a little more heartily.

Watch the video for "Limit to Your Love"

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters