By now it might be common knowledge that James Blake is a musician that demands a certain amount of attention. After a brief spell of recording music under his erstwhile moniker, Harmonimix, and releasing numerous EPs and singles under his own name, Blake released his self-titled debut to well-earned praise. Minimal and unique, it was what dubstep wished it could be, with Blake showcasing a deft hand at composition, harmonies and above all, musicianship. Now, Blake has crafted an even more expansive sound with Overgrown, an album that is arguably head and shoulders above his exceptional debut.
The songs Blake has created continue to follow a similar path from before, one should remember that little was known about Blake’s vocal and piano skills until, well, he finally unveiled them. Those features are now some of Blakes strongest assets with his voice sounding nuanced, fragile and full of vigor and the piano acting as the underlying support to many of the songs on Overgrown. Much has been said about Blake’s time spent with Kanye West and Justin Vernon and how it helped shape his ideas around electronic music but more than ever his songwriting, which stems from the piano and his voice, are the stars here. The lead single, “Retrograde,” begins with a pensive piano and Blake’s shuddering voice as he welcomes the chanting overtones and claps that surround him. These songs are once again built in layers with additions taking over under the control of a masterful hand and Blake is in top form once again.
In his review for James Blake, Samuel Stephenson wrote that the album was “full of soul and maturity, both in its song writing and production, whilst showing us that dubstep, when drawn out and explored progressively, can be delicate rather than bludgeoning,” and Blake has once again, tremendously proven this point. “To the Last” combines a bellowing synth line and a scaling keyboard that allows the former to act as the background to everything. Particularly filled with a notion of strong bass, it’s far more in support, instead of the full-on assault that American dubstep is known for, and amongst some circles, despised for. Blake goes one step above with music that is carefully paced and composed: there are synths, and there are basses, and there are definitely electronics, but it comes off as a classically-explored realm, instead of something drastically in-your-face.
These subtle and minimal touches deliver magic to what Overgrown is. If James Blake was an open book about what Blake’s music was really about, Overgrown is an artist that is growing by leaps and bounds. So much so that it’s overflowing with presence and ability that is in many ways unmatched. On “Life Round Here” Blake takes the gorgeous melody that begins the song and renders it with smartly tailored snares and low-buzzing basses. His vocal tendencies recall someone as brilliant as Antony but Blake’s singular fashion is even more impressive because at the young age of 24, he’s only going to fuse into something far more advanced from here on out.
Perhaps that’s what’s so astonishing about it all; for what Overgrown represents, the ten songs on here are breathtaking to say the least. Even on “Digital Lion” were Blake is able to feature a type of sound that roars with churning basses and heavy doses of beats, it’s all done in a manner that allows the natural swells and highs to take over. But Blake isn’t shy about conveying the lows either. Instead, Overgrown continues to build on a fantastic reputation: one that much like his music is aided by layer and layer of calculated additions that all together showcases one of music’s most gifted composers.