James Blake's second album bursts with alluring vulnerability, range-defying riffs and tracks as enchanting as they are chilling
The lead single of Overgrown is the sensational Retrograde which is the stand-out track, first aired on radio in February. Pared back, riff-heavy, silky smooth vocals permeate hollow verses juxtaposed with bursts in the form of anthemic choruses, set right in the middle of the record. If the album is a sweet, it’s the juicy, indulgent and rewarding caramel centre within a dark, smooth chocolate shell.
Another release excited the blogosphere earlier this year when Voyeur was uploaded online, albeit the dub version. An atmospheric track full of loops, key changes and meshed samples - expect to hear this as a soundtrack to many fashion shows next season.
Never afraid of silence, there’s something about the quiet confidence and soulful, (and often sorrowful) versatility of Blake that captures the listener and won’t let go. Granted, you need to be in a particular mind frame to truly tap in to and appreciate the style of music he offers, this is a much more accessible and mature record than his self-titled debut of two years ago.
There’s a distinct R&B vibe washing over select tracks, like Life Round Here, but in particular Blake’s duet with RZA on Take a Fall For Me. It’s a symbiotic pairing, which you may not expect from the pair, with Blake’s crisp, clear harmonies and soft backing vocals off-setting RZA’s husky, slightly slurred speech which communicates beautiful and poetic lyrics. An unexpected sentiment, as "beautiful" is an adjective very rarely attributed to rap.
It’s rare to hear a male voice with such a handle on melisma, of which Blake displays an exceptional capacity. Vocal gymnastics were made famous by divas like Whitney and Christina, then butchered by talent show hopefuls oversinging every note. However, Blake’s tone expertly hovers and draws every last emotion from his personal lyrics. Chilling for the most part, but it may be annoying for some listeners.
Our Love Comes Back concludes the album, featuring a composition reminiscent of fellow experimental musician Imogen Heap – where sounds of the voice are merely another instrument to shape and distort, resulting in snug layers within this musical lullaby.
Some tracks indulge in a jazz-like formation, with spontaneous darting of sound and sample into different pieces of music which can make listening at first a little disjointed. However, 24 year-old Blake a clear handle on what he wants to convey, what he does and how he wants it to be listened to.