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It’s not a banger, but then again, when has James Blake ever produced a banger?
For the majority of his career now, James Blake has been making expansive, dub-influenced soundscapes that usually feature his trembling tenor or the voice of someone else. Some call it “post-dubstep” and some call it “bass music.” But overall there’s one thing people seem to agree with: James Blake is a genius. Even the detractors for his first album (which are few and far between) recognize that Blake’s experimentation has changed the electronic music landscape forever. Artists from Jessie Ware to Drake have been influenced by his music and the reception shows that. According to Metacritic, there were no bad review for James Blake. The reception was overwhelmingly positive and there were only a few (7) mixed reviews. So with this kind of influence coming from a debut, how does James Blake’s sophomore LP hold up?
Wonderfully. From the somber introduction of “Overgrown” to the mostly-dub “Digital Lion,” Blake ups the ante in almost every single way. The lyricism on this album is subtly complex. While most know Blake for his hypnotic vocal repetition, Blake sets beyond that threshold on this album, giving his lyrics more depth and volume. On “I Am Sold,” he sings “We lay nocturnal/speculate what we feel” and on “DLM” he sings passionately about a relationship growing cold with distance. For a second album, Overgrown demonstrates remarkable improvement, the kind of improvement and depth that only a few artists (namely Drake, Bonobo and Tinashe) have achieved within electronic R&B. The way that Blake both subtly and overtly infuses the dub elements of his previous EPs into this albums ballads is unparalleled in the industry at this point. I can only think of one other electronic artist who has show this kind of initiative and improvement album-to-album and that artist is the excellent Flying Lotus. On this LP, the comparisons can be taken further as each of these artists have taken influences from instrumental hip-hop and modern jazz. Songs like “To The Last” evoke comparisons to Jamie xx as it uses some of his production motifs like steel drums and R&B influenced drum beats. The soaring vocals on most of these tracks have very little autotune on them (as opposed to the first album) and are better for it. The vocals on this are evocative and beautiful, showcasing Blake to be an even better vocalist than James Blake and Enough Thunder led us to believe. The harmonies on songs like “Our Love Comes Back” are sweetly melancholy and almost magical.
In general, this album is almost perfect. Despite some tracks being subtly repetitious (by some I mean one, that one being “Voyeur”), the drum arrangements and moving synths give them (it) enough energy to warrant multiple listens.