The Radio Cure
Where Music Makes Friends


April 29, 2013

Album Review | James Blake: Overgrown


As one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year for me, Overgrown has been on pretty constant rotation since it dropped 3 weeks ago.  I keep coming back to it – and it keeps getting better.

For many people, James Blake is a bit of a slippery fish.  Too Dubby to be a pure R&B artist, but far too much R&B in the vocals and beat to enter the nefarious land-o’-douche-baggery known as Dubstep (although considered pioneer in the genre), but then not noisy enough to be classified as exclusively experimental.

In an article with Boston’s The Phoenix back in 2011, Blake addressed the influence of Dubstep in his work:

“The things that drew me to dubstep in the first place weren’t necessarily the kind of testosterone-driven environments that you got from say, late jungle or some of the drum ‘n’ bass stuff that was happening after that. I think the dubstep that has come over to the US, and certain producers — who I can’t even be bothered naming — have definitely hit upon a sort of frat-boy market where there’s this macho-ism being reflected in the sounds and the way the music makes you feel. And to me, that is a million miles away from where dubstep started. It’s a million miles away from the ethos of it. It’s been influenced so much by electro and rave, into who can make the dirtiest, filthiest bass sound, almost like a pissing competition, and that’s not really necessary. And I just think that largely that is not going to appeal to women. I find that whole side of things to be pretty frustrating, because that is a direct misrepresentation of the sound as far as I’m concerned.”

In the article, Blake when on to argue that his music was not only more egalitarian– appealing to women and men equally– but was also a purer representation of dubstep as an idea – its ethos.

Regardless of genre classification, the simple fact is that James Blake is what people in the biz call good music.  But don’t confuse good music with easy-listening.  Overgrown purposefully pushes and pulls out of dissonant keys, keeping you on edge.  Harmonies are presented but sometimes only shortly enjoyed before being pulled back under the surface of loops and noise like a swimmer treading water with a weighted vest.  Musical snippets and thoughts emerge in volume and travel in their balance from left channel to right, giving the feeling that you are listening to something living/breathing.  Vocals are lush and smooth.  Seducing the listener.  The mood is dark and smoky.

. . .all the while the bass beats the pulse.

If you’re looking for a repeat of his debut self titled release, you’ll quickly find that this is not the budding James Blake of old.  The almost dizzying complexity of his debut isn’t really evidenced here, but in it’s place is a cleaner, more refined piece of work that shows the sum of Blake’s parts all shined up with a cohesive polish.  Surprisingly, although Blake has grown and developed as an artist, I’ve found myself recommending this album to first time listeners as a starting point.

Favorite tracks include:  Retrograde, Overgrown, To The Last, (and his most impressive piece yet) Life Round Here.


To The Last


Life Round Here

About the Author