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The Telegraph MARCH 29, 2013 - by Neil McCormick
JAMES BLAKE: OVERGROWN
"Time passes in the constant state" croons James Blake on the haunting title track of his second album. Yet his ambiguous, poetic lyrics float in a musical context that distorts time, loops and twists natural progressions, speeds and slows, fractures and congeals. There is nothing constant but the mood it establishes, an emotional ambience of love and longing.
The twenty-four-year-old classically trained son of a session musician (James Litherland, formerly of prog rockers Colosseum), Blake emerged from the dubstep dance scene but uses all that beat technology to evoke a state of yearning. This is an album of love songs, though song itself might be too strong a word.
The experimentation of Blake's self-titled 2011 debut really arrived in public consciousness through a startling reworking of a beautiful ballad, Limit To Your Love, written by Canadian singer-songwriter Feist. For the follow-up, Blake has made a real effort to raise the bar of his own material, and there are tracks where you catch glimpses of the sensitive Nick Drake-ish singer-songwriter he might have become in a pre-computer age, notably the single Retrograde, the jazzy noodling DLM (short for Don't Let Me), the sweet chord progression of To The Last and dreamy opening of Our Love Comes Back. But his very process works against singalong clarity. These are almost songs, pre-cut up and refracted, like dub versions of tunes you don't know yet.
Weirdly, we are starting to get used to this mix already. As adventurous as Blake's approach is, there is nothing to frighten the horses. We have been led here by degrees, via cut-and-paste hip hop, the digital beats of urban pop, autotuned folk of Bon Iver, genre-bending grandstanding of Kanye West and late-minimalist rock of the xx. It is a future that surely delights ambient godfather Brian Eno, who contributes to Digital Lion, where Blake's tremulous tenor drifts in a womblike warmth of subsonic bass. Philosophical rapper The RZA interjects some urban urgency into Take a Fall For Me, reminding us that the ghostly samples of the Wu Tang Clan foreshadow this music by more than a decade.
Overgrown is underdeveloped, in the best possible sense, employing the sonic palette of state-of-the-art, digital dance music to pursue something almost completely contrary to the clubbing experience. These beats are not hard, the sounds are not polished. It is music of emotion and imagination, shifting perspectives in ways that are deliciously intangible, intent on moving the heart rather than the feet.