‘Overgrown’ gets an overdue review

James Blake, the London-based musician released his second LP Overgrown last April, which went on to win the Mercury Prize.

He has a musical dad, is classically trained in piano and studied popular music at Goldsmiths. Influences apparently coming from Stevie Wonder, Bon Iver and The xx, he’s been releasing music since 2009. ‘Limit To Your Love’ was massive for him in terms of building hype. Doesn’t always use his own vocals, take ‘CMYK‘ for instance (damn). On this release you will find traces of Blake’s voice on every track, he’s here to show he’s grown as a singer-songwriter.

He found much success releasing his self-titled debut album back in 2011. It was a bit ground-breaking, people were throwing the phrase ‘post-dubstep’ around like crazy. His productions were dub infused but they also had this component that was his delicate voice. He’s certainly capable, making music that’s a piece of art. Check out ‘Measurements‘, it’s carefully arranged and fuses together aspects of gospel and synthpop.

Although the structuring is still not conventional the album feels a bit more consistent than his first and is more beat driven. The thing that is quite special with Blake is that he pushes boundaries in electronic music and with lyrics that are incredibly human. The leading track ‘Overgrown’ is quite somber, demonstrating his confidence to let his voice carry a song through.

‘I Am Sold’ is the stand-out track for me. I adore the intro, a quiet exchange, his stunning voice utters “linked like dog to man – I am sold”. The haunting “and we lay nocturnal, speculating what we feel” is repeated over some chords. The percussion builds as the bridge comes along, the wobble bass is dropped in delicious and timely.

Another highlight is ‘Life round Here’ its R&B beat rolls nicely. “Everything feels like touchdown on a rainy day” is profound to me. The entire song is basically the same three or four lines over again. That’s not something everyone can pull off, but Blake seems to do it effortlessly. ‘Take a Fall For Me‘ has the only guest that’s on this record being Wu-Tang Clan member RZA. His flow compliments the instrumental, the line “turn this square dance into a passion hug” is amazing.

 

‘Retrograde’ was the first single of this album to be shown to the world. It was the perfect preface, teasing fans with what to expect. Blake demonstrates some really beautiful lyrical ability here with lots of imagery to it. There’s melodic humming over a basic clap & snare drum beat, when I saw him perform this as soon as he did that first hum everyone recognised it. “Suddenly I’m hit” he proclaims at the chorus. There are moments of despair as he tells us, “your friends are gone, and your friends won’t come”.

‘DLM’ is stripped down to a hesitant piano accompanied by outstanding singing. He pines, as poetic as ever with lines like “it’s in your stare and at your core”. Just as you thought Blake had forgotten to surprise his listeners he brings us this collaboration with Brian Eno on ‘Digital Lion’. Apparently inspired by a gospel record they both love, this can be heard in harmonies made of Blake’s moaning. In its structuring, it’s probably the most different, with no identified verse or chorus. It does have an interlude, a move I appreciate. The song is sort of moody in its climax with shuffling drums as Blake questions, “did you tell lies?” The production is atmospheric, there’s a killer bass line and a lot of layering.

‘To The Last’ is memorable with its aching, “all I see is what you’ve done”. There’s gentle chord progression, the song peaks ‘we’re going to the last, you and I’. The finale to the album ‘Our Love Comes Back’ has an opening verse and abstract harmonies, leaving an optimistic taste.

Verdict: Every track is unique and emotive, connecting with audiences one way or another. During its longing and hopeful moments, the album is stunningly crafted with abstract chords and subtle touches.

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