I have a dark secret. Back in 2011, I skipped out on James Blake’s debut LP, James Blake, because of skepticism. That probably came from the uprising of bro-step, and another dubstep fad wasn’t something I was looking forward too. Months after it’s February of 2011 release, I decided to embark on a listen because of its astonishing reviews. Now I did listen to his early EP’s like: Klavierwerke, CMYK, and The Bells Sketch, but the full length was said to be entirely different than what he was already doing. I felt immediately ashamed and disappointed because the album ended up becoming one of my favourite albums of 2011, and still is a close favourite to me. When I heard the news of a new album for mid-2013, I couldn’t wait. This is up there with the most hyped albums of the year for me because of how great the first album was.
James Blake, the British music producer/electronica/vocalist is known for his soulful vocals over what has been coined as: “Post-Dubstep”. The genre has picked up hype with the help of associated acts like Mount Kimbie and Jamie xx, and hasn’t taken a step back. The innovation in the music for it’s ambient influences and chopped vocal tracks has been something I loved ever since James Blake’s self-titled debut. Overgrown is an album that expands on the first. From the get-go I heard immediate differences. The album contains more bass than it’s predecessor and the layers are clearer. I could have picked out every little sound from my headphones. The cleaner production (backed by electronic legend Brian Eno) on the LP, especially on tracks like “Overgrown” and “Our Love Comes Back”, give the album that slight push. The two songs I mention have a quieter sound compared to the rest of the album’s build-up tracks, and the production helps the song show all the complex layers added to the mix.
All ten of these tracks have their own personality. It was no wonder why Republic Records leaked five of them to public before the initial release. My favourite song right now is the seventh. Titled “Digital Lion”, the song reminds me a lot like “Unluck” (from James Blake) mixed with the break down of “Slippy nuxx” (by Underworld) . The way the vocals are mixed and mashed fits perfectly over top the delicate chords. The track just builds and builds to the ultimate peak where the drum beat starts to separate into different parts and the vocals are pushed through so much editing that I don’t know what the original sounds like. The next track, “Voyeur”, has a “One More Chance” (Bloc Party) feel if the song was more electronic. I could dissect every track on this album to little pieces, but that would be boring. What gives this album so much personality is that every listen is different. The accessibility is there, and I began to hear new sounds after every listen.
The new dimensions on this album also gave me new favourites more different reasons. “Retrograde”, which is the official single, is amazing because of the typical James Blake sound it has. The chords play out so well and it just sticks with the listener. “To The Last” has this Radiohead sounding vocals, and James nails the part perfectly. The undertones pack a major punch that leads perfectly into the striking chords that guide the song to it’s ultimate climax. “Take A Fall For Me” is the most surprising song on the entire album, and Blake’s entire career so far. He has GZA, from the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, guest star on the track. He lays down three and a half minutes of his greatness, and his pretty smooth flow over top of Jame’s vocals fits almost perfectly. The jealousy I have for the talents James has is huge. He’s such a diverse musician who hits home runs with everything he touches.
Now the album is a great listen. It’s replay value is extremely high, and will be one to look out for on the year end list. The only knock on the album is that the iTunes bonus track isn’t apart of the main album. When I first listened to the album, that was my favourite song. To learn that it’s not part of the original is slightly disappointing. After more listens, I understand why it doesn’t fit in with the atmosphere of the album, but to exclude it all together of the full album only degrades it. This won’t impact my ‘score’, but any readers here who wondered if there are any good bonus tracks that exist, there is. Be sure to listen to “Everyday I Ran”. There’s no excuse, as it’ll only enhance your listening experience.
Overgrown out did James Blake. While some songs off James Blake might stand out a little more, the overall experience of Overgrown is better. There’s no other way of saying it. This album is just plain, flat-out, BETTER. The production, chord progression, song structure, atmosphere, mood, and listening experience are an upgrade from the 2011 monster. While it isn’t in my all-time favourites (yet) because of how new it is, be sure to check the year end list to see if I can actually hold a valid opinion for more than 6 months! Overgrown is an album that sticks out in the vast world of electronic music. It’s very accessible, exciting, and emotional. Be sure to check it out at your next chance!
Here’s the single, “Retrograde”: