James Blake – Overgrown

 

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After Blake’s collaboration with Bon Iver on “Fall Creek Boys Choir” it didn’t come as a surprise that James Blake would eventually move towards an electronic version of gospel-folk, and thus move even further away from dubstep – the genre that made him a house hold name. Since he is gifted with a voice that shouldn’t hide behind auto-tune, it’s actually not a bad move. Overgrown, Blake’s sophomore album is substantially more varied and accessible than his highly acclaimed self-titled debut. Still, there are cuts like “Voyeur” that is the closest Detroit-techno as James Blake’s ever gotten; its effect is such that the rest of the record feels muffled in comparison. Consequently, “Voyeur” also one of the highlights on the album. Where he fails most is on the meditative non-bass cuts like “DLM” and “Our Love Comes back”. There are simply other acts that both match and outshine Blake in this particular terrain.

Where Overgrown usually shines is at the crossfire between his two extremes. The title track, “Retrograde” and “I Am Sold” are three outstanding tracks; amongst the most melodic, disarmingly beautiful songs of Blake’s career. “Retrograde” in particular is a stunning take on post-modern gospel with a hymn-like chorus where it’s clear just how much Blake’s grown as a songwriter. On “Overgrown” he once more shows of his heartwarming yet melancholic voice over a sparse piano and a deep rolling bass-line. The last two minutes of the song are possible the highlight of the entire album.

The direction Blake’s taken on Overgrown is both fitting and comes as no surprise. Since Blake pretty much lost his hardcore dubstep fans anyway, there’s no need to accommodate their needs. And besides, the sheer creativity and originality of his debut isn’t repeatable, so why not embrace his voice as one of his strengths and move further into pop friendlier and more mainstream territory. This is exactly what he’s done on Overgrown. Unfortunately at the intersect of R&B and electronics, he’s far from alone. With How To Dress Well and The Weeknd already succesfully pushing R&B aesthetics far into a sparse electronic environment, Blake’s contribution to contemporary R&B is getting less and less convincing. Though, in all fairness, had Overgrown been his debut, these issues wouldn’t be considered this much. But Blake, just as anybody who has to follow-up an unquestionable brilliant record will ultimately face the fate of always and forever be compared to their magnum opus.

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