James Blake - Overgrown
Troubadour for the Burial generation revisits fey, enigmatic stylings on second album
James Blake provokes that kind of feverish excitement you’d mostly associate with the giddy hormonal urges of Beliebers, but instead he enchants the coolly-detached habitués of Boiler Room. It’s understandable. He is after all, an impossibly zeitgeisty and prodigiously talented musician, songwriter, and song-interpreter, who has struck of mellifluous chord with those drawn to soothing allure of low end, but who occasionally don’t want its other grittier textures. A troubadour for the Burial generation.
On this his second album, Overgrown, he revisits his rarefied stylings: his delicate timbre plaintively cooing over nocturnal bass and ethereal beats. It’s bewitching and at times brilliant but can also be fleeting – where one will hear tender, others will hear wan, insipid. Where one hears intimate, stark others hear noncommittal, opaque. This is the dichotomy that lies at the centre of James Blake, and you either buy into it or you don’t. He envelopes these songs in an extremely judicious selection of contemporary sonic tropes, but beyond his expertly crafted veneer sometimes lies an anodyne centre of effete, affected crooning.
Not always. His charms are obvious, and not just to his fans but also to collaborators. Here we get the an incongruous appearance from Wu-Tang’s RZA rapping about ‘fish and chips’ on ‘Take A Fall For Me’ and Brian Eno who adds some warm bath ambiance to the jittery buried groove of ‘Digital Lion’. Elsewhere, the opening title track draws you in with that come-hither subterranean bass before opening up with a more expansive synths and subtle keys. It’s potent, contemplative, and majestic, and a pretty wonderful reveal. Album closer ‘Our Love Comes Back’ is more poised and subtle but has that solitary glacial grandeur Blake is good at conjuring. He is equally adept at writing songs have a mirage-like quality, appear initially fully-developed but deeper inspection unearths something fragile and tepid (‘To The Last’, ‘Retrograde’). Detractors will remain unmoved but Overgrown will again delight those who appreciate Blake’s fey, enigmatic talents.