Two years ago, around the time James Blake released his debut album, ‘post-dubstep’ was the buzz word.
Blake – a regular at seminal dubstep night FWD; – was joined by The XX and Jamie Woon in setting wistful lyrics and emotional vocals to doom-laden beats and haunting melodies.
It’s an indication of how quickly Britain’s music scene moves that we’re into the post-post-dubstep age now. Life’s changed for Blake, too. He’s bagged himself a Mercury nomination, been fêted by the cognoscenti and fallen in love. The remarkable, brooding title track of this, his second album, with its refrain of “I just don’t want to be a star but a stone on the shore”, was inspired by a post-gig conversation with Joni Mitchell about fame.
Even more so than on his debut, Blake uses his voice as devastating emotional ordnance, his cracked falsetto recalling Aaron Neville or Thom Yorke. On ‘To The Last’, which mixes ghostly fairground organs with Bach and dubby, funereal rhythms, it becomes a fragile, world-weary, Jeff Buckley-style soar. But despite the introspective mood, Blake – who runs a night, 1-800 Dinosaur, at Plastic People – doesn’t forget the dancefloors that inspired him. It’s most apparent on ‘Digital Lion’, a collaboration with Brian Eno. The electronic legend joins Blake on a juddering, percussive gallop that’s punctured by a foghorn blast that grows more unsettling the more you hear it. ‘Overgrown’ has the same impassioned, ethereal aura that surrounds Massive Attack’s masterpiece, ‘Mezzanine’.
It’s loaded with spiritual themes, too, from the choral chants at the start of ‘I Am Sold’ to the droning, quasi-gospel hymnal ‘Retrograde’. Only on ‘Take A Fall For Me’, where Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA rhymes about ‘a million quid’, ‘fish and chips’ and ‘cold stout’, is the album’s emotional carapace pierced. It’s intense, ambitious and, in places, uneasy listening, but at the core of ‘Overgrown’ lies unalloyed beauty.
File under: Weighty, deeply sensitive electronic soul
Download: ‘Overgrown’, ‘Retrograde’, ‘Digital Lion’
Like this? Try Massive Attack ‘Mezzanine’ (Virgin)