Let’s get this out of the way – James Blake clearly has talent. There’s just about enough melodies here that get stuck in your head easily enough to convince you of that. What we also have here though is a record that misses far more than it hits. Evidently chosen as the artist to sell the dubstep culture to a mainstream permanently preoccupied with precious singer-songwriter types. he takes the aesthetic of his earlier Klavierwerke EP and uses it to create a record that is ostensibly Bon Iver/The XX in feel. That is to say it’s restrained, pretty and belongs nowhere near a dance floor.
This is best demonstrated on lead single ‘Limit To Your Love’. His approach to this cover is dramatic, although the use of sub bass has been hailed as way more interesting than it actually is. That’s not to say it’s a bad song, and in between Skream’s mainstream breakthrough remix of ‘In For The Kill’ and this (which should have a massive appeal), it might convince people to start listening to music on proper speakers as opposed to the god-awful tinny sound generated by a laptop speaker (ok, rant over).
A particular highlight is ‘I Mind’, where he creates a propulsive melody with vocal samples to effect that the track almost feels like it’s going to get started. ‘A Wilhelm Scream’ is a good track that manages to draw enough life out of its endlessly repeated vocal line, but too often this formula grates where it’s meant to delight. ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ has the single line “My brother and my sister never talk to me, and I don’t blame them” repeated ad nauseum, and by the end you don’t blame them either. Ok, that’s harsh. Like I said, he’s clearly talented. The EP preceding this release got the balance right, and injected melancholy vocal samples into songs that had just enough liveliness. Whilst the change here is obviously intentional, the move to a more conventional framework comes with the realisation that the songwriting is kind of limited to a handful of really good melodies.
Good: It sounds good – the production and sounds he uses specifically.
Bad: Not many memorable songs.