Minimalism and jazz has suddenly made dubstep and house cool again, all thanks to clinical perfection of James Blake’s production. His debut album was released in February, and it’s much to be desired. However, Blake’s song writing needs cleaning up a touch.
Over the past couple of years, it’s been hard to deny, or even question the impact such artists like Skepta, Vaski, Rusko, and more recently, Magnetic Man, have had on modern day music. In the summer of 2010, especially, dubstep was being shot out of every sub around the country. It became as common and as popular as regular drug use, and the recreational burning of english literature anthologies. Alas, as of late, dubstep has over stepped the mark, in some sense. Just as rock music managed to in the early 1980’s, every dubstep track just started to merge together and sound the same. Instead of dancing to dubstep, teenagers have turned the volume down, and let the bass fade solemnly in the background of the party room. It’s just not exciting anymore. For James Blake, however, it’s never been about the excitement of the snare punch, or the adrenaline surge of the woo boost. It’s simply been about the song production, and thinking about the creation of the music. Thus enter, the Nat King Cole of Dubstep.
Upon his debut single release, his cover of Feist’s ‘The Limit to your Love’, the general public thought they were just listening to some awkward piano playing singer-songwriter stringing out a Jazz arrangement of a virtually unheard of song. Following Blake’s trilly, and matured vocals over his resplendent fingering on the echoey grand piano, teenage ears pricked up again. Out of the blue, the puncturing sub bass blasts through the speaker mesh, and slams on your ear drums like a tidal wave. Blake manages to convey the subtlety and beauty of a mixed modern jazz piece, with the darkened dancey edge of dubstep and house. As anticipated, ‘The Limit to your Love’ features in his self titled debut album. Unsurprising that radio guru Zane Lowe named ‘The Limit to your Love’ as ‘Hottest track in the world’.
When James Blake’s debut record hit shops on the 7th of February, peaking at number 9 in the album charts, each buyer exchanged money with the knowledge that each of the 11 tracks would be filled to the brim with cochlea weakening sub bass and jazzy textures. However, the mood of the album slices the common theory into pieces. As it turns out, Blake brings more jazz and house music into the mix, rather than just the dubstep on it’s own. On tracks like ‘Give me my mouth’, Blake opens with an jazz club like piano sequence, which softly harmonizes with his moody vocals. Blake reflects his awkward, and shy persona in his lyrics almost perfectly, swooning out lyrics like “I never told her where the fear comes from”. Says it all, really, doesn’t it? There’s nothing unusual about his songs writing as an empathising jazz piece, aiming at common misconceptions and flouted pleasures, for example, his very teenage look at love. He doesn’t sugar coat the idea, he just hides behind the concept, just as he hides behind his piano.
Blake’s musical ability as a producer really excels expectations on tracks such as ‘To Care’. Using various vocoding, looping’s, and vocal transformations, Blake pans out his textures from ear to ear, and to be perfectly honest, he gets the balance just right. Without stunting the songs entity, Blake’s deep, moody vocals carry off the song as sad house piece, as he casts way from the obvious nature given from ‘The Limit to your Love’. Instead of covering song, Blake shows that he can write songs of his own. On his second, and highly anticipated single, ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, Blake’s minimalistic song writing skills balance out the contrast with his complex and direct production attributes. Each snare pad is equalized to be as tinny and as punched as he wants it to be, every electronic organ note is tuned the way he wants it, and every vocal panning is layered and dis placed in the mixing, again, the way Blake wants it done. He may be hiding behind his piano, and keep his eye line at the keys, but he definitely knows he’s in charge of his music, and he knows how he wants to make his music. I don’t know what you think, but it’s something to be admired.
James Blake has delivered an album worthy of veneration in the workings of his production, but as a complete piece of song writing, his production talents shine through the cracks of his song writing. There’s something about the way he composes his Jazz music which doesn’t seem entirely ready for the crossed mainstream, individual target audience Blake is aiming for. His debut record is a beautiful piece of song writing, but the unusual nature of the way Blake writes his music is something for another time in the eyes of the chart followers. For those who wish to indulge and gorge on the sublime and subtle distinct Blake production. Feel free to dig in.
Hard copy: James Blake – Album review