James Blake is not who you might think he is based off appearance and with that being said, it is a daunting task for me to even attempt to describe the sound of his music because his music is actually many things, not just one. The English singer-songwriter emerged on to the scene back in 2010 with the release of the EP “The Bells Sketch”, a 15-minute soul techno funk project with composition that mimicked the sound of a nostalgic videogame and synthesizers that solidified the messy and obscure feel that was uncomfortably pleasant. The release however, would still not completely foreshadow the work that was to come from Blake as he continued on his career. In an age of obsession with computers and digitization of sound, effects are usually used to create a bold, boisterous, electrifying sound and most recently foster the dub-step wave that has hit the college adult music scene like the knockout punch in a Tyson fight. But instead of joining onto the wagon making a transition from basic electronic sound, Blake decided to do something more outlandish and break down the barriers that many are not clever enough to undertake: incorporating the surprisingly soulful gospel tones of vocal performance into the very minimalistic and unconventional tones of down-tempo electronic and dub-step backdrops; a sound that Blake may very well be developing the brand for himself. As a matter of fact, the overall effect of Blake’s second album Overgrown can be described as letting the mellow and harmonic tones fill the marrow of your bones as you slowly float on an island of tranquility and deep spiritual revival; something like a gospel singing Bon Iver, but after two glasses of champagne and a long, hot bubble bath kind of chill. Blake’s soft and almost ghostly voice consumes the songs and fills your body with inclusions of mysterious stripped-down melodic hums and incorporation of obscure dubbed over pre-recorded background vocals provided by Blake. The solo production by the artist exemplifies complete control over intention and further illustrates deliberateness of meaning, having been described as “melodic bass music” by critics. Blake has mentioned in previous interviews that the album was influenced by his relationship at the time and lyrics such as “And I’m gonna love you, tell me if we’re wrong, all I’ve seen is what you’ve done” provide the perfect example of intention and deliberateness previously described. Other gems from the album include the conceptually brilliant sound melt “Life Round Here”, which later took on a radiant remix with Chance the Rapper infused with a lingering and addictive sub-bass and “Take the Fall for Me” featuring Wu-Tang Clan legend RZA, who offers an interesting set of bizarre and sentimental bars over the haunting sounds of Blake’s loose and feathery production. We are unsure of what to expect from Blake for the future as he continues to on his innovative journey through the industry, but until that time, I will continue to play this album for my peace and clarity. I chose this album for my number 8 pick because in this time of music, Blake has truly set the bar for what minimalistic artistry should and can be and tunes in on the craft of simplicity, where others are still looking for the most harding hits sounds in attempt to annihilate the competition.
Best Song: “To The Last”
Best Production: “Take the Fall of Me” ft. RZA