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James Blake “Overgrown” – Album Review

Polydor (2013)

With a fondness for space the size of the Grand Canyon, James Blake was held up as the dubstep genre’s antidote to Skrillex when his self-titled debut album became the hipster LP of choice back in 2011. But the 24-year-old Londoner’s avoidance of anything resembling a tangible melody also drew criticisms that his success was an undeniable case of style over substance.

Lead single “Retrograde,” a ghostly slow-jam which recalls D’Angelo at his 90s peak, hinted that Blake might not want to be such a divisive force for follow-up, Overgrown. But like the stunning cover version of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love,” which helped James Blake receive a Mercury Prize nomination, it’s something of a red herring.

Indeed, the fact that Blake is now two years into a relationship with Warpaint’s Theresa Wayman hasn’t hampered his ability to sound completely and utterly inconsolable – his quivering falsetto often threatening to crack under the weight of despair on the likes on the unsettling bass-pop of “To The Last” and the woozy gospel of “DLM.”

This fragility is best used to devastating effect on “I Am Sold,” a haunting skeletal ballad which sits up there with the finest morose offerings of Antony & The Johnsons. But like its predecessor, the constant yearning can border on the self-indulgent. Overgrown only begins to show any real sign of progression when Blake teams up with someone more maverick than himself: firstly with Wu Tang Clan rapper RZA, who virtually relegates Blake to guest on his own song with the lo-fi nocturnal hip-hop of “Take A Fall For Me”; and secondly with visionary producer Brian Eno, who serves up a suitably ambient melting pot of white noise and glitchy percussion on the ominous “Digital Lion.”

Like James Blake, Overgrown is difficult to warm up to at first. But in a world where the speaker-blasting bass wobble still reigns supreme, it’s the kind of intelligent record that dubstep most definitely still needs.

3.5 / 5 stars     

About the Author


Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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