Verdict – 8.5
The debut album by English dubstep producer James Blake is a subtle, understated and affecting record, taking the concept of the popular dubstep genre, stripping it down to abstract minimalism and supporting the production with emotive soul singing. Also a singer/songwriter, the songs are laced with intricate vocal textures and layers, enveloping to create a rich sound, resulting in a treat for the ears.
The album’s best track, The Wilhelm Scream, is a sonic maze, unravelling as you progress through the song. The lyrics are suitably repetitive, emotive and deceptively complex. (I don’t know about my dreams… All that I know is that I’m fallin’, fallin’, fallin’ fallin’. Might as well fall in) Lindisfarne II, with auto-tune and vocoders leaving the lyrics largely undecipherable, still manages to feel immensely personal and beautiful as he croons “Beacon don’t fly too high”. James Blake is a headphones album, or at least one that requires high quality speakers to fully appreciate the production. This is shown especially in Limit to Your Love, a Feist cover, which has a strong vocal by Blake, and is supported by a pulsating bass, which can literally shake the entire house if played over a quality sound system. This genuinely cannot be heard to the necessary degree when played over sub standard speakers/headphones, meaning it actually is a great measure when buying new gear (I use it to when testing new headphones etc.).
The ambient and minimal style may polarize listeners (and will definitely not appeal to people expecting Skrillex forms of brostep), but to those who fancy these kinds of genres will find James Blake one of the most rewarding, emotive and sonically provocative albums released in recent years. Sparse it may be, but necessary, Blake shows us how we can expect popular music to continue developing and changing over the coming years. A stunning debut.
Top Songs – The Wilhelm Scream, Lindisfarne II, Limit to Your Love