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James Blake: Yes Please.

Music is changing all the time. Now, if you’re reading this, then the part of your brain that ejects sarcastic remarks is probably overloading. “I had NO idea music changes, Becca. Thank you SO much for telling me” is just an example of one. But seriously, that redundant statement isn’t there to taunt anyone, it’s there because a new album is about to drop and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard (in a good way). Prepare yourselves for James Blake.

After making every Pitchfork, BBC and NPR “Best of 2010” list for the 3 extended plays he released, Blake is finally about to release his self-title debut album on February 7th. Did I mention he accomplished all of this immediately after graduating The Latymer School in London? He’s only 21.


Electronic music lovers, get ready for your head to explode. The composer’s arrangements are minimal but also layered. It’s a dish of both dubstep and classical, with a side of R&B. Not to sound contradictory by any means- it’s hard finding the words for something new. Pitchfork described it as, “grinding, mechanical soul.” NPR puts it as “syncopated rhythm mixed with weathered croon,” and good ‘ol Wikipedia categorizes Blake under: Dubstep, Minimal, Ambient and Pop.

Honestly, each of these descriptions turned me off. Reading them makes it seem like he’s some above-it-all musical god whose goal is transcending the conventional norms. Trying to change “music” just for the sake of changing it normally fails; then, you look like an asshole while failing. Point being, Blake did not fail. He successfully created an album so versatile that you could describe it as anything and not be wrong. “Electronic” is just the string that ties the LP together, making it a fluid package that, when listening to it, will break your heart and melt your soul. Also, I really hope he’s not an asshole (and that we could, one day, get married in a beautiful field).

His classical training is easily noticed throughout 11 tracks. His piano background erupts towards the end of the album in “Give me My Mouth” and “Why Don’t You Call Me.” These are the most “traditional” pieces, comprised mostly, of just his deep, jazzy vocals, both raw and pitch shifted, as well as his famously passionate piano arrangements. In “I Never Learnt To Share” it became apparent that one of Blake’s greatest assets in this album is his use of blank space. It’s pauses aren’t awkward, they are personal. It’s the first album since For Emma: Forever Ago that I literally miss when I’m not listening to it.

If your not willing or able to get this album before February 7th, I highly suggest you pre-order it, and listen to his EP’s: Air & Lack Thereof, The Bells Sketch, CMYK, and Klavierwerke available in both vinyl and digital download. But if you do get your hands on James Blake, I would absolutely love to hear how you describe his unique sound.

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14 comments

  • This is a great album, but I’d ask people to download his CMYK EP. CMYK is one of the best tracks of any genre last year. ‘Limit to Your Love’ is a great track but at the end of the day it’s just a cover.

  • yo if at this point you want to make a relevant statement regarding James Blake’s musicianship i think it is important to touch on what separates the James Blake LP from the litany of post-burial introverted post-dubstep that has permeated the psychospace of 2011. For me this is:

    -fearless use of silence
    -fearlessly open harmonic language
    -fearless obliviousness in regard to his genre identity.

    James Blake is getting so much press both because he is a very talented (and self-aware) artist and because he possess a sublime confidence (ala warhol) in regards to his location in the vector of modern culture.

    also, if I understand correctly… James Blake is not a ‘classically trained’ musician as you have stated. Instead he studied “popular music” from a historical and analytical perspective… and the language he records with is the organic result of years of improvisation as opposed to directed academic study.

  • author

    Pitchfork on Blake’s EP: “”Klavierwerke” simply means “piano works” in German. It’s a name you’d normally find in classical music– a collection of Beethoven sonatas, for instance, might be called this. In James Blake’s hands, it’s something different. The gifted British producer’s new EP is rooted in the piano (he’s classically trained), but he gave it a German name as an homage to famed Berlin techno spot Berghain.”

    My mistake, and Pitchfork’s if it’s an incorrect statement.

    But I agree with you in the regards of his fearless contribution in “2011’s psychoospace”. Thanks for reading.

  • Not my cup of tea. I don’t hate him and I enjoy the refreshing lack of constant boom-bangitty but the style of (t)his song just doesn’t grab me. This is just one bees opinion.

  • james blake: no thank you. just don’t get the draw. i’m definitely glad not all music has gone the way of beiber or ke$ha, but that isn’t enough. there’s no driving force behind it, it’s monotonous, it has no build, and no emotional impact beyond the trite, pleading of the lyrics. i try to have as widely varying tastes as possible; i’ll listen to anything once, but if it doesn’t awaken something in me or drive itself into my head so that i must listen to it again, i probably won’t. i have no idea how he ended up on any “best of” lists. i hope it isn’t just because he’s so non-pop. pretension for the sake of pretension in critics (not saying you, becca) completely undermines any weight they may have in influencing any future decisions the free thinking public may make. there may be something better on his eps, but i just wouldn’t want to put myself through anything like what i just heard again just to try to find it.

  • I like this song so I went and to find some of his other music to listen to. And…I liked those other songs as well. His music is definitely different, interesting, and pretty, but the problem is, I don’t really know what to do with it.

    It’s not driving music. Not party or hanging out music, unless you like to shoot heroin with your friends, and I don’t think it’s even something I could listen to when I’m just doing things by myself because it’s so distractingly odd. Maybe I’ll give his music some more tries and wait for a good rainy night to play it while I drink wine and stare out the window.

  • The internet: the only place where you can work hard to give good information to people absolutely for free, and 30% of people will still take a shit on it.

    James Blake: like a farmer in his field, outstanding.