James Blake – Overgrown (Atlas)
April 10, 2013 by Tom Perkins
On their debut albums it may have been reasonable to link The xx and James Blake – both clearly shared the same influences and styles. Again on their second records both have stuck true to the original blueprint. Once a band has carved out it’s unique sound differing can be dangerous for a career. However, the difference between the two artists is that Blake has remembered that song writing is the key.
That’s not to say Blake hasn’t changed. The biggest change seems to be confidence to allow songs to grow and take shape. Musically he still taking his cues from Burial’s 3am – on the way home from the club sound – fitting with his previous criticism of american dubstep. Also, the Bon Iver and RnB/Hip Hop influences are impossible to miss – RZA features on one track and ‘Life Round Here’ is an updated TLC song. As before, the sound flirts with dance music and never quite drops. Depending on the listener this will make the tension grow for the sparse releases, or frustrate them into listening to something a bit more upfront.
On album opener ‘Overgrown’ Blake sings “I don’t want to be a star” and sets out his stall for the rest of the album. This is not an album which is going to be played on Radio One. By no means does that make this a bad album – if anything it’s what makes it so good. From this opener to ‘Tale a Fall for Me’, which as previously mentioned features RZA, the album slowly builds and then ‘Retrograde’ the album’s lead single drops. It is the stand out track from the album, perfectly balancing Blake’s voice against bass line and 808 claps. Mid way through the song bursts into life with a euphoric synth before again sliding into the fragile vocals. Simply, it’s a master class in modern electro and deserves to make Blake the star he doesn’t want to be.
From here on in the album grows with the Brian Eno produced ‘Digital Lion’, which has vocal hums reminstance of Bill Wither’s ‘Grandma’s Hands’ – as sampled on ‘No diggity’ by Blackstreet – and it’s interesting to hear Eno produce something so vibrant and current after producing Coldplay and U2. ‘Voyeur’ follows and is the most clear cut dance moment and is a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on the last Hot Chip album.
If there is to be any criticism of the album it would be to say that not often enough does Blake let go. ‘Voyeur’ teases at a clear cut dance sound and certainly you feel that if he wanted he could be capable of it. There are parts of this album which seem held back. In the long run this may be no bad thing as it gives plenty of scope for future ablums. An album like Overgrown will need repeated listens before all the details come out and its cohesive whole album nature can be appreciated.