Overgrown is the 2nd full length studio album by the sensational James Blake and whilst a lot of the hints of his dubstep past are gone, the album beautifully highlights, more than any previous release, his deep and soulful voice. This offering is not quite as experimental as some of his previous works but that discordant and eerie element of his production is still at the forefront and to this he has added a dash of a hip-hop flavour.
James Blake’s time spent with a certain Mr West early last year had been publicised to be a major influence on this album and whilst that influence can be heard it’s definitely not as major as some sources were hinting. Despite this change in influence and a small step away from the post-dubstep feel of a lot of his earlier music this effort sees James sticking to the melodic bass music we’ve come to expect and that he does so well.
‘Overgrown’ starts the album off in typical Blake style with excellent piano work and chilled and haunting vocals throughout. The beats, bleeps and glitches show the talent of this man’s production. That beat-making talent continues to shine through on the next track ‘I Am Sold’ which has some great percussion with a real groove.
‘Life Round Here’ has a majorly hip-hop influenced beat but it’s on ‘Take A Fall For Me’ that hip-hop really rears its head with Wu-Tang member, renowned producer and all round rap legend RZA laying down some great vocals. This spoken word performance wrapped up in Blake’s own distorted voice leads to something really great.
Next is the first single from this effort, released just after the album was announced; ‘Retrograde’ and whilst conforming more to standard song structure and presenting Blake’s voice in its least distorted and chopped up form it can hardly be considered an attempt at the mainstream. As soon as the discordant, layered landscape of powerful synths start building up it is clear that despite radio success, Blake is making no attempt to follow standard pop rules and continues to push a sound all of his own.
‘Digital Lion’ sees James collaborate with industry legend Brian Eno, a man whose absence from the scene is hard to imagine. The song builds from a stepping beat with interspersed clips of Blake’s voice tuned up to a stomping and swirling finale of noise and percussion and is enthralling from start to finish.
‘Voyeur’ switches things up yet again and could possibly even be considered dance floor friendly after the surprise introduction of some cowbell and a stomping beat. Though you could imagine this in a club it’s not a hands-in-the-air affair but more an eyes down stomper for the moodier chin-strokers amongst us.
In my eyes, James Blake is a rare survivor of the hype machine, by that I mean he’s one of the few artists who gets so much critical acclaim and doesn’t end up disappointing. From the first productions of Blake’s which began to trickle through he has been constantly revered, receiving nominations for BRIT awards, an MTV VMA and the 2011 Mercury Prize as well as winning Single of the Year (2010) for ‘CMYK’ at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards amongst many others. A lot of artists in this position, especially early on, crumble under that pressure but not James Blake who has gone from strength to strength.
This album packs so much in for such a wide range of people. From the hip-hop influences of Kanye and the amazing cameo of RZA to the Brian Eno collaboration, from ambient tranquillity to almost overwhelming crescendos of white noise. At the centre of it all, however, are the gospel/soul/R&B vocals which, surely, everyone must appreciate.
Check out James’ website to buy the album and check up on tour dates: