James Blake sounds like he’s cutting through the very fabric of space and time on his extraordinary debut album. The 22-year-old Londoner comes from a background in dubstep, the murky dance sub genre that spawned Burial and Magnetic Man, but his own work has a studied stillness which stands utterly apart.
What at first appear to be straightforward piano ballads sang in Blake’s yearning soul voice soon warp into auto-tuned cries, corrosive tracts of slo-mo electronica, and barely registered percussion. The Wilhelm Scream starts like a nu soul song set on boudoir seduction but builds to a brooding finale like banks of clouds rolling in from horizon, on I Never Learnt to Share Blake emotes a repeated line of family dysfunction as the synths reach fever pitch meltdown while Lindesfarne I recalls the oddball electronica of Laurie Anderson and the intimacy of Talk Talk’s final album Laughing Stock.
Blake’s celebrated cover of Feist’s Limit to Your Love is an expressive stroke in comparison with the glacial crawl of the rest of the album as is Measurements which blooms from stark simplicity into an old time spiritual. But for the most part, Blake sounds like he’s playing on the very periphery of your subconscious. Some musicians like to say they’re breaking down barriers; Blake sounds like he’s breaking the sound barrier.