I’ve been wanting to try this for a while now. Nearly every album review I do materializes out of a notepad, where I listen track by track and jot down impressions of what I hear. Track by track reviews aren’t unheard of, but they’re putting a lot of stock in the reader/listener to follow along. Personally, I love them, but I also have more free time than the average adult. I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.
Furthermore, I’m going to leave the notes almost entirely untouched from the notepad, journalistic integrity out the window. If you’re going to give this album a serious listen — and you should, because it’s hardly an album you can passively play through your laptop speakers — you can follow along with my thought process, as meandering as it can get. Let me know how you guys feel about it (it being my decision on this post and the album itself), and maybe I’ll do this again in some form in the future. Grab your best headphones. You’re going to want to hear every bit of what James Blake is saying on this record.
“Overgrown”- meandering melody. voice out front. some weird 80s mirror-sung ballad here with the “I don’t want to be a star” refrain. Big orchestral shifts and cymbal washes. The bass is quiet, unfortunately. Finds a mesmerizing loop on it’s way out, which is more of what I’m looking for.
“I am sold” – the piano and unaccompanied voice really doesn’t work on it’s own. Blake is a electronic producer and an innovator, and that’s what makes him so gripping. This one finds those legs quickly, with a four tet esque vocal sample buried in the background. Lots of space to focus on that cheesy ass drum sound. those aren’t so four tet esque. This one has a groove though, with some of really creative vocal manipulation in the chorus.
“Life Round Here” – very thom yorke synth line/jittery drum track to open this one, and is met with some rare harmonies. the synth build is the catchiest hook on the album, and pays off beautifully. He’s a true architect here, with new and engrossing melodies attacking the headphones from all angles.
“Take a Fall For Me”- I know i heard RZA sau passion hug, and that about sums up this track. RZA is overly sentimental, which is the exact opposite of how I want my RZA. This is on it’s way to being a hip hop beat, but lacks the percussive punch, whether it’s lacking a few tracks or just uses too thin of samples. The melody is there — something positive. Can’t possibly bear to hear those verses again though. A true throwaway from somebody who hasn’t stopped listening to Gucci and Waka for the past 2 weeks.
“Retrograde” – nothing left to say. it sounds like a love song in the middle of a plane going down. Really incredible how his voice can create these peaks with so little accompaniment. So far a lot less vocal manipulation than on the s/t, but he’s doing a masterful job of looping those Aguilera (?) vocal runs, stuffing them with fuzz and burying them in fog. Still chills when that synth peaks. Chooses great lyrics to loop too. “We’re alone now.” It feels almost painful in the middle, like you want to dig your fingers into the couch and clench your teeth. Conveys emotion as well as any song I’ve ever heard. Will go down as an all-time favorite, won’t even front.
“DLM” – Ugh. Lounge singer Blake again on intro. ….maybe it’s not just the intro. I do appreciate the harmonies, but I’d prefer he takes steps to get weirder than lean toward a more traditional sound. I understand he likes Joni Mitchell, but it doesn’t work in the context.
“Digital Lion” – Another Thom Yorke nervous feel. airy synth swells over shakers and…i dont know what that is. Literally cannot even begin to figure out what’s making….oh what the fuck. Acoustic guitar? Thank god that was over quick. I don’t know if there’s an instrument that turns me off quicker to new releases than the acoustic guitar. Can totally handle it on older records, but I cannot deal with it in 2013. One of the big reasons I was turned off to The Men record. I guess it makes sense since this is the supposed Eno track. Was over so quick I’m wondering why it was there at all. Finishes sounding a lot like one of those schitzo looped tracks off of King of Limbs that everybody trashed. “Feral” and “Bloom” come to mind. For what it’s worth I loved those tracks on first listen. This even disintegrates in the same way, with that shaker prominent.
“Voyeur” – was familiar with this song prior to the release. On cool songs March mix. I remember it being borderline abrasive, with accessibility thrown out the window. emphasis dark synth layers. All on top of the danciest drum beat on the record. That’s cool, I really like when there’s space on a record to just try something. So far removed from stuff like DLM. Drops to a section that’s straight horrid, conjuring some frightening imagery. Love this shit.
“To The Last” – Vocal creeps back into the picture. Still dark, but much more space with organ tones that sound like church bells. Really stretches out on this track, and pulls us out of the darkness that was Voyuer. This is the most transparant track in terms of structure, but I can’t even wrap my brain around how somebody writes a song like this. Do they start with a bassline? Or that church organ? Definitely not that vocal line, because Blake’s radius for where his vocal might trail is wide. Cool song, cant wait to see what he chooses as the closer. This has been good.
“Our Love Comes Back” – Please don’t do it. James Blake, the heartbroken lounge poet. Starts to disappear after the intro, with some fairly cheesy synths traveling through what sounds like pouring rain. Again chooses a good vocal run to loop, and this time harmonize on it too. bonus. And then a whole new direction. He really is all over the place sometimes, but most of his ideas land. Looks like this album isn’t going to end on much of a statement, but some type of heartbreaking goodbye. One of the quieter tracks, but as always there’s something to make it worth it. This time it’s that vocal loop.