James Blake - Overgrown | Album Review | By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret

James Blake


A classic singer-songwriter in the purest sense but rather than wielding a guitar he prefers a keyboard and drum machine.

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Author: on April 25, 2013
Republic Records
April 8, 2013

I feel like at times people are more in love with the idea of James Blake than his actual music, in such a way that his music is given a grandiose level of abstract, almost anti-social insight, when in truth the man seems pretty straightforward. Not to downplay Blake’s work at all; it is wonderful and Overgrown finds the young songwriter emerging resplendent and colorful from the cocoon that was his self-titled debut. In a recent interview with Hot Press Blake states how falling in love has affected his sophomore record in numerous and exceptional ways. But the key point to take from this piece is James’ lyrical breakdown of sorts: “I can’t deny it. There’s no point in trying to come up with some other explanation for what I’ve been writing about… When it happened, I was really struck. Y’know – Suddenly I’m hit!” And there we have it, “Retrograde” from the mouth of the man himself, and while I don’t think approaching Blake’s work as a more direct form of R&B as opposed to experimental dub-step will lessen his debut’s luster, it could be the best way to ingest Overgrown.

“My brother and my sister don’t speak to me / But I don’t blame them,” Blake solemnly stated in “I Never Learnt To Share” off his debut illustrating a fractured existence within his family. When postured against a slow-but-driving beat and glistening electronics James’ voice is given ample room to breathe and we are afforded a glimpse into just how much girth is hidden under that shaky croon. Overgrown, simply put, is a very different record to James Blake – it is more lush, much more straight forward and built on more traditional pop sensibilities. The hooks are abundant and brilliantly glossy, the bass is deep but tempered, Blakes lyrics, while still abstract and minimal at times, comprised predominantly of loops, are much more focused and effective. The whole record still feels about a decade ahead of its time, not only in how it sounds but how Blake is presented as an artist. No longer is this music made by a kid in his bedroom with a laptop and a mixer – this is melodic avant-R&B in widescreen. Funny thing is though, this is that same kid, on presumably a slightly more expensive setup, making music that sounds enormous and animated. He is a classic singer-songwriter in the purest sense but rather than wielding a guitar he prefers a keyboard and drum machine.

“I don’t want to be a star / But a stone on the shore” James states to open Overgrown with the album’s title track. Now while his modicum of commercial success, especially in his home country, states otherwise, it is difficult to view Blake as someone pining for the charts. With Overgrown though, he is making a case for why he simply belongs there, why we as listeners, should hope he does ascend at some level. I have heard Blake’s more pronounced, troubadour-esque output equated to the likes of a Jamie Lidell or even Antony Hegarty but I would place him in a category with an XX or Burial. Even as his music is much more organic with Overgrown, it’s Blake’s command as a vocalist – a presence on record – that is what he shares with the more musically distant London artists. There is a frailty still present in his demeanor but he seemingly has more command over it now. He apparently had no issues with the idea of a sophomore-slump and this record does nothing but further that assertion. Overgrown is an intelligent, mature album that is as engrossing as it is brilliant and proof that a little more structure (and a little pull at those heart-strings) was all it took to boost this man into the stratosphere.

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