ALBUM REVIEW: JAMES BLAKE, Overgrown

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James Blake is back. Two years after the release of his self-titled debut album, James Blake has returned with Overgrown, an impressive follow up record. As a narrative, Overgrown has an underlying and consistent theme of loss. Lending pathos and melancholy to this record, Blake exposes everything to his listeners. This record is naked and raw and in being so, separates itself from its predecessor. As one of the pioneers of post-dubstep, James defines his subgenre by adding vocal samples and atmospheric ambience to a heavy bass and percussion beat. His debut album incorporated a lot of sampling and chopped vocals, resulting in an experimental and spontaneous record. Without abandoning the signature vocal sampling, the production of Overgrown definitely sounds more structured and lucid, with less vocal distortion. There are quite a few stripped-back tracks, which pushes Blake’s pure and pained voice to the forefront. Each track transitions smoothly into the next, with a consistent moment of instrumental climax defining each song. The first half of Overgrown is raw and mellow, with soft piano riffs and a building tempo. Blake’s voice is controlled, emotive and naked. The second half of the album is defined by its heavy bass and percussion instrumentation. ‘Digital Lion’, the seventh track on the album is a dance track, its club-house beat paving the way for the remaining tracks. Incorporating vocal sampling, heavy bass and percussion, ‘Digital Lion’ epitomises the post-dubstep paradigm. Blake makes it his own by adding a down tempo ambient background. The final three tracks progress with a house beat and a similar tempo.

The record opens with ‘Overgrown’, a sombre track immediately illustrating Blake’s vocal range and tone. Incredibly emotive, this track is subtle in its tragedy, “but when things are thrown away like they are daily, time passes in the constant state”. Hypnotic and eerie, ‘Overgrown’ is a signifier of the overall theme and tone of the record. Loss, disposable love, isolation and brevity mark Overgrown and this first track successfully sets its listeners up for a sincere and heartbreaking record. ‘Overgrown’ transitions smoothly into the next track with a progressive bass and tempo.

Blake collaborates with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA on ‘Take a fall for me’. The inclusion of rap diversifies Overgrown, however Blake makes it his own and brings it back to post-dubstep by adding samples of his own voice, synthesisers, a crackling and chilling ambience and an aggressive bass. The lyricism of the track is heartbreaking and desperate, with RZA rapping “What will become of me, if I can’t show my love to thee?” With a repetition of “what will become of me”, this song inspires pathos, dripping with fear and anxiety.

“Retrograde” is my personal favourite. Incredibly haunting, this song never fails to give me goose bumps. Opening with nothing but Blake’s beautiful harmonies and minimal piano, bass and percussion, “Retrograde” stops you in your tracks. In a moment of climax, the track progresses into sci-fi like electronic beats and a chilling melody, “And your friends are gone, and your friends won’t come, so show me where you fit”. Concluding how it started, “Retrograde” takes you into an alienating existence with Blake as your saviour. The final track, “Our love comes back” ┬áis a wonderful finale, a haunting, yet hopeful conclusion to Overgrown.

Overgrown is brilliant. James Blake continues to push the possibilities of his genre in a new and innovative direction. Listened to with sincerity and care, Overgrown is a heartbreaking story of love and loss and Blake successfully intertwines rhythms of post-dubstep and rnb as a means to an emotive and unforgettable end.

Review Score: 9.3 out of 10

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