After the mercury music nominated success of his debut album, mood-step poster-boy James Blake is back with his second offering ‘Overgrown’.
In the run up to his debut, James Blake found himself hyped as the next young prodigal producer, able to splice R&B samples from the likes of Kelis and Outkast into intriguing club tracks that refused to pander to ‘the drop’. The release of his first LP, however, disappointed many fans of his EPs (myself partly included). Rather than go down the straight production route, he opted for a more singer-songwriter approach, culminating in much critical acclaim (including overrated Pitchfork praise). Don’t get me wrong, the album is still a very strong piece of work, but it just wasn’t what everyone expected – and it’s that unpredictability that makes Blake so appealing.
With his next EP he took it even further down the bass-crooning route, and in my opinion too far, collaborating with the likes of Bon Iver and pushing his minimalist song arrangements to their furthest capabilities. Coming to listen to ‘Overgrown’, then, I was apprehensive. I was hoping for a return to the earlier EPs like ‘CMYK’ and ‘Klavierwerke’ but still keeping the subdued piano work that Blake had honed on his last two efforts. And that’s pretty much exactly what ‘Overgrown’ is.
The title and opening track is a killer; rolling along with Blake’s signature spliced percussion and falsetto and building into a cavernous crescendo where he states his longing for anonymity, singing ‘I don’t wanna be a star, but a stone on the shore’.
Following tracks ‘I Am Sold’ and ‘Life Round Here’ are both far heavier than Blake’s previous works and show his appreciation for a good live show atmosphere with those low bass frequencies guaranteed to resonate favourably on a large soundsystem. The RZA collaboration ‘Take A Fall For Me’, is almost a foray into Blake’s hip-hop remixes under his moniker Harmonimix, and despite RZA’s off-colour lyrics about drinking ‘cold glasses of stout’, the grip of squids and ‘passion hugs’, the track is held together by Blake’s minimal, beat-heavy production.
Tracks ‘Digital Lion’ and ‘Voyeur’ are the most club-friendly of the bunch, incorporating some serious rave-synths and the mysterious presence of Brian Eno (as you can read here http://canyouhearthis.co.uk/2013/03/15/digital-lion-james-blake-brian-eno/). My favourite track by far, though, is the closing ‘To The Last’. It really displays Blake’s skills as a songwriter and producer, taking a single line and morphing it’s repetition into an Erykah Badu-style soul sing-along, all over a seriously menacing bass-line and breathy percussion. This is far from your middle-of-the-road singer-songwriter affair and definitely worth a listen if you consider yourself a fan of either songwriting or good electronic music.