Sunday 11 December 2016

Album review: James Blake

No limits to his talent

Published 04/02/2011 | 05:00

It was a brilliantly re-invented cover song that helped alert the world to 22-year-old Londoner James Blake. Feist's Limit to Your Love found itself warped into a stately, spectral form in Blake's hands, his remarkable vocals offset by sparse piano and stuttering, faltering electronica. Once heard, it was not easily forgotten.

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That song takes pride of place on this slow-burning album, which, while still unreleased, managed to make Pitchfork's top 10 for 2010.

But it's easy to see why those tastemakers were so taken with Blake's album -- its singularity is evident straight away. And by the stage its comparatively short run-time is over, you're left with the increasingly rare feeling of having heard a true original at work.

The Feist song is easily the most commercial track here. For the most, Blake displays an extraordinary maturity in allowing his pensive, ponderous, but always engaging, songs to breathe. It's a collection that defies categorisation although dubstep aficionados will find much pleasure in the intimate, nocturnal arrangements that characterise the album.

There are shades of Bon Iver, too, in Blake's wistful, evocative singing. His electronically treated vocals hang in the air as a ghostly sonic backdrop floats by. Measurements could be a companion piece to Bon Iver's Flume and there's also a similarity in the way both can extract so much from just a handful of words. That's most evident on the arresting I Never Learnt to Share, in which he laments: "My brother and sister don't speak to me/But I don't blame them." We don't find out why, yet this snatched lyric manages to convey far more than most overly prosaic wordsmiths achieve. That's Blake's greatest skill -- he knows when to leave well enough alone.

Like The xx, with whom he is regularly compared, this is one of those albums best appreciated alone. Its intimacy rewards the patient listener, while his commanding vocals are likely to snare others. He may not quite boast the otherworldly voice of Antony Hegarty, but his is a name that resonates repeatedly, not least on the haunting Why Don't You Call.

Burn it: Limit to Your Love; Measurements; Why Don't You Call

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