James Blake's Songs of Experience

James Blake, a freckled, auburn-haired young singer and electronic artist from the southern town of Deptford, England, fell into dubstep-inspired electronics while at university, where he majored in pop music (which apparently one can do). Years of classical piano training already under his belt, Blake, spurred on particularly by Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, decided to add vocals to his wandering, blues-tinged melodic lines, though he chose to submerge much of them in special effects and a quiet, often heartbroken-sounding delivery. The result is his debut album, James Blake, which earned the singer runner-up status in the BBC’s Sound of 2011 contest, got a Best New Music nod from Pitchfork, and hopefully is making it hard for curious music fans to give the new Strokes or Lady Gaga songs too much thought this week.

Listening to James Blake feels like being buried under a down comforter with an ativan in your stomach and another person by your side whom you’re sweating but haven’t quite caught yet and maybe never will. Your ideal track for this predicament: “The Wilhelm Scream,” which was inspired by some production work by Blake’s father, of a track called “Where to Turn” by James Litherland, and which contains the brilliant lines, “I don’t know about my love / I don’t know about my loving anymore / All that I know is / I’m falling, falling, falling, falling / Might as well fall in.” The latter half of these lines (and they repeat and change slightly many times over the course of the song) is appropriately set to vertiginous underwater-sounding electronics.

The songs are sexy, but sexy has a great range, and at the opposite end of the spectrum from James Blake you would probably find Robin Thicke. Blake’s most comfortable range verges on baritone, but he often reaches into alto, where he doesn’t sound uncomfortable, just charmingly wounded. There are flecks of Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons in his voice, but Blake’s voice cracks and crumbles, and you feel he doesn’t want to get as close to you as Hegarty does, literally or figuratively. These songs feel like very private experiments that happened to have come out immaculately; Blake’s shy live presence strengthens that argument.

Blake paid homage to Mitchell with a cover of “A Case of You” posted to Stereogum and other blogs this week. Not surprisingly, it’s a wandering, indulgent cover that stumbles out of its time signature in a way that suggests improvisation, and much of the full-length album feels this way. Blake lets out a sigh in the final second of the Mitchell recording, and these little accidents of real life — breaths, children yelling in the street, the sound of taking a foot off a piano pedal — exist throughout, a delightful feature for an album whose electronics feel so perfectly orchestrated, even when they seem to be wandering and bending away — beautifully so — from structures like rhythm and melody.

James Blake is out now on Atlas Records and A&M; you can find it on iTunes and Amazon. TC mark

Photo via Last.fm

More From Thought Catalog

Sponsored by Homecoming available now on Amazon Prime Video

The People Bringing You Delicious Dairy

A new Thought Catalog series exploring our connection to each other, our food, and where it comes from.

Meet Rosemarie Burgos-Zimbelman
James Blake's Songs of Experience is cataloged in , , , , , , , , ,
  • http://twitter.com/t_baugh Travis Baugh

    seems like TC is rebranding itself via this blog post

  • http://wayindie.blogspot.com kelly huckaby

    Thought I was on p4k/stereogum/gorrilavsbear/NPR/drownedinsound/lineofbestfit/thetripwire for a second

    • emma harrison

      yeah, isn't it strange how more than one media outlet tends to talk about something if it's good? such a bummer. and isn't it also strange that you can't really talk about an album until it's released, which is why they all start talking around the same day? life is hard.

      • http://wayindie.blogspot.com kelly huckaby

        you have the same name as a girl my 8 year old brother is taking to his schools valentines day disco
        im sorry if i made you mad
        i read all the blogs i listed
        i thought this article was in a similar style
        i like james blake
        i like liz colville
        i feel like im missing something here
        i feel like larry david from hbo's curb your enthusiasm
        you can email me at kellyhuckabyyy[@]gmail.com if you want to talk more

      • http://twitter.com/rap_dot_com bort mysterio

        welp sounds like you mad

  • http://wayindie.blogspot.com kelly huckaby

    Thought I was on p4k/stereogum/gorrilavsbear/NPR/drownedinsound/lineofbestfit/thetripwire for a second

  • Blah

    Dam, my SoulSeek was acting up and wouldn't let me download this last night.

    • http://twitter.com/t_baugh Travis Baugh

      RL JB heads got this weeks ago

  • accordionkeyz

    finally we have something to shout for in the UK

  • https://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/im-done-with-thought-catalog/ I’m Done With Thought Catalog | Thought Catalog

    […] on arts and culture in creative ways. There were reviews of the arts: theater, movies, television, music and literature. And all of it was coming from 20-somethings, my peers, which seemed to carry more […]

blog comments powered by Disqus