Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Album Review: James Blake's Overgrown

I won't shirk the claim that James Blake is my favorite artist to debut in the last couple years; that's a pretty concrete feeling I have. He seems to do everything right - his EPs allow him to experiment with new styles and sonics, his LPs are focused on furthering his songwriting and catalogue. That being said, Overgrown feels much more complete than Blake's eponymous debut. It is pure joy to pick out the little nuances Blake buries in his music, whether it be the subtle shifting of elements from foreground to background or just a noise I cannot begin to fathom constructing myself. He is at the forefront of Electronic music, passionately concerned with moving the genre forward.

Overgrown finds Blake stripping back the digital masking on most his vocals, offerring a more honest listen to his maudlin crooning. What makes Blake's second effort much better than his first is the song writing. His lyrics are tight, pensive, organic -- this is why I was rather disappointed that Blake didn't include a lyric sheet in his physical release like the debut did. I'm not just humming along to these songs anymore, but singing the lyrics clearly all day: chewing, digesting the material. The structures of these songs are complex and unique, more so as the record progresses into its increasingly experimental second half.

Enough Thunder, one of the two EPs in between the debut and Overgrown, saw Blake flirt with a Bon Iver collaboration and a beautiful Joni Mitchell cover; and even though the former wasn't anything to write home about, it allowed the artist to broaden his musical palette by including someone else in the song writing process. With this experiment under his belt, Two legendary musical figures, RZA and Brian Eno, helped James Blake with two songs on Overgrown. Both efforts are wins, the RZA song being one of the best songs Blake has done, giving hope to anyone (me) who wanted him to produce for rappers - his mix of R&B singing with stellar production dovetails RZA's heartfelt and serious lyrics pointedly.

There are more traditional songs - "Overgrown", "I Am Sold", "Retrograde" - on Overgrown than any of James Blake's previous efforts, be it EP or LP. And even though, as previously mentioned, the back half is a little experimental, there aren't any Lindisfarne ones and twos taking up record space. When it comes to a bonus track, a concept Ben Goodheart is vehemently against, "Everyday I Ran" may be the first bonus track to warrant a couple extra bucks, as it is just as good as Blake's breakthrough "CMYK".

I cannot wait to see where he goes from here; hopefully we get more experiments and new musical approaches on an EP in the near future, which isn't hard to imagine considering how dense the artist's output has been since his emergence.

Final Grade: A-

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