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James Blake Music Review: “Retrograde”

James-Blake-Overgrown-2013-1200x1200It begins with a single vocal line, that gives off the feeling of someone weeping. The piano falls in, sparsely accompanying him in the background, hitting jazz chords that sound like they are covered in snow.  Everything is covered in echoes, burdened by memories, and every note sounds like it’s on the brink of falling apart. The 808 drum pad hits in, bringing energy and rhythm to what sounded like a somber piano song. A lyrical vocal line follows: the singer sings of a girl who should be the strong person that she knows she is. He talks to her, saying “ignore everybody else, show me why you’re strong.” Then finally, with the persistence of someone who is yelling but can’t get the words out, he says “suddenly I’m hit.”
At that moment the bottom drops out. Tornado sirens pile in, the gritty keyboard sound folds in, shifting, sliding and fluctuating between perfectly dissonant chords. A high pitch sounds out over everything, a keyboard singing as emotionally as a human. It drops out. The piano, drums and voice are left, fading away into the wind and rain. Silence.

This is Retrograde, off of James Blake’s most recent album “Overgrown.” Somewhere between R&B, Electronic/Hip- Hop, Dubstep and Ambient music lays this beautiful album. Led by piano, synth, programmed beats and James Blake’s smooth voice, we hear new sounds that nobody in music has tried yet.

Brief Bio: James Blake was born in 1988 in London. Heavily influenced by underground electronica/ dub step artists, he attended the University of London and majored in popular music.

Many song-writers in the alternative music scene today approach music by writing a song and then dressing it up in nice clothes.  It seems as though Blake does the opposite; approaching music by making the shell of a song, like a hollow bowl. Slowly he fills it up with what defines his music. It might be the perfect synth sound, or it might be a slightly off-beat drum track, bleating through layers of echo and electronic distortion.

This is an album that’s really difficult for me to talk about. In King Lear, Lear asked his daughters to say why they loved him so much, and who ever most vividly described how much they loved him got his kingdom. The daughter who actually loved him, simply said “I love you.” That’s how I feel about this. I can’t describe quite what it is about this album that touches me. Perhaps it’s just magic, perhaps it just touches my basic sense of what I love in music.

My best advice is to forget everything I said about this album and give it a listen. You won’t regret it.


Songs you should definitely listen to:

James Blake:
Lindisfarne II, The Wilhelm Scream, Limit to Your Love
Retrograde, Overgrown, Life Round Here

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