In retrospect ‘James Blake’ can now be viewed as another stepping stone on Blake’s musical evolutionary journey which started with ‘Air & Lack Thereof’ back in 2009. Always travelling a different path to his peers, James is as much a singer-songwriter as he is a bass music producer. On ‘Overgrown’ his latest transitional shift has been made, the layers stripped back to reveal a selection of stark, beautiful and emotive songs, all with James’ heart-wrenching vocals at their centre, set in a simple framework of subtle electronic sounds and beats.
Title track ‘Overgrown’ sets the scene, offering a Nick Drake style ballad reborn as a spiritually uplifting electronic soul masterpiece. ‘I Am Sold’ recalls the sparse beatbox melancholia of Portishead, while ‘Life Round Here’ also has a certain Bristolian downbeat feel, opening with almost baroque-like keyboard motifs and rimshots and slowly building with electronic noise. RZA adds a rap to ‘Take A Fall For Me’, a bold fusion of hip hop beats and folktronica. ‘Retrograde’ has been used as the album’s teaser track, and you can see why; an amazing song in the style of ‘Limit To Your Love’, with a dense cascade of pitch-shifting synths. Piano / vocal piece ‘DLM’ sees Blake dispensing with the electronic production altogether, an interlude before the dull heartbeat thud, scattering snares and rave airhorns of ‘Digital Lion’ (think Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’). The differing opening dynamics of ‘Voyeur’ – part love song, part sub bass rumble - evolve into a proper dancefloor track with 4/4 beats, cowbells and synth drones. Set against a ticking rhythm and mechanical scrape, Blake’s vocal soars skyward on the beautiful ‘To The Last’, while the album closes with ‘Our Love Comes Back’, a devastatingly simple ending.
Garnering equally enthusiastic reviews across the blogosphere and print media alike, ‘Overgrown’ is a work of immense talent that will leave breathless with both its scope and simplicity, and have you already salivating at the thought of Blake’s future inventions.