Pop is shedding its skin. Thanks to The xx, a future seems imminent where populist music isn’t a brash, shrill dash to the middle of a business formula but a patient, personal wave inviting introspection.
Now enter stage left James Blake, a classically trained pianist, keen poet, gospel singer, studio maverick and new breed of producer that also thrives on control rather than mayhem.
His are fragile, beautiful songs floating over warmly alien, sometimes seemingly formless musical structures yet it’s an effect borne through unconventional levels of space and patience.
After hyped singles on Hemlock and R+S he deployed a remix of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’, firing a viral manifesto across YouTube and clammy buses as ringtones and laptops vainly battled to represent its low-hertz loving throbs of sub bass and sparse exposed vocals.
That’s the hype, so what of the LP? Well, if you are looking for crushing bass drops then lash on your trainers and catch one of his banging DJ sets. This recording is about energising bouts of silence with an electric and fuzzy aura bequeathed from his minimalism.
The most boisterous, ‘I Never Learnt To Share’, turns from playful soul warm-up to a haunted experimental flight that twists into a heavy wall of contemporary cloaked rhythms and drone that nods to dubstep yet is far mutated beyond the soul clubs like FWD>>.
Much else is also foreign soil. Blake’s name is being muttered in the same breath as ‘dubstep’ or whatever ‘post-genre-du-jour’ but his quiet vision and delivery has stylistically smashed away any need for genres.
‘To Care (Like You)’ is more a love song from Mars; a glitchy android lamenting a lost galaxy whilst the percussion reflects the chaos and texture of leaking mercury rather than any earthly drums.
‘Lindesfarne’ comes in two svelte concurrent parts as vocoded soul awash with melancholia unites a strangely metronomic kick drum and loping notes that are brave beyond Blake’s years.
This understated flow may wrong-foot hype seekers, but just permit the beautiful structures to bubble over your ears as his warbled, testing vocals chase silence around. The audacious age of calm is upon us and Clash can’t wait to hear Blake’s influence take root.
Words by Matthew Bennett
Read an excerpt from Clash Magazine’s interview with James Blake HERE.