James Blake James Blake

James Blake James Blake
Minimal masterpiece or half-baked navel gazing? James Blake's highly anticipated debut album mostly tilts to the former. Having released EPs with somewhat different compositional approaches over the past year, Blake positions himself as a singer-songwriter from a somewhat introspective future world. His haunted cover of Feist's "Limit To Your Love" sets the tone: his wooly Daryl Hall-like voice and soulful piano chords play off thunderous bass accents barely above the threshold of human hearing. Blake seems obsessed with instrumental economy, and deploys silence every time a crescendo is expected. This creates tension or boredom depending on one's point of view. Fortunately, when he gets down to rhythm programming, his ear for effective rhythms is keen, utilizing few explicit drum kit noises to brush up against hip-hop, dub, and all manner of mid-tempo UK bass music. He saves his affectations for massed Bon Iver-style vocal harmonizations. When everything clicks, as in "I Never Learnt To Share," the journey progresses from mushy, synthetic soul to a pile-on of epic, dissonant harmonies before hitting a serious-as-your-life Flying Lotus-style groove. The lyric itself is just one sentence, like a more casual take on Steve Reich's 45-year-old minimalist classic "It's Gonna Rain," which is bound to piss off those looking for more conventional gravitas to their singer-songwriters. But the spell is broken elsewhere: Blake's vocal dipsy-doodles fall flat in the home stretch with "I Mind," and he's not so interesting without the EFX in the straight piano ballad "Give Me My Month." On the whole, this record is a very intriguing combination of minimal concepts and pop conventions. By eschewing the showier retro-soul vocal loops of Jamie Lidell, Blake digs into the unsettling possibilities of mechanized vocal harmony to evoke Laurie Anderson, though with ridonkulous bass and no sense of humour whatsoever. (Atlas/A&M)