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James Blake

Proving that, with just a pensive voice and some keyboard technique, anyone with a mind for music can make it in today’s X-Factor-addled world. Far away from the maddening crowds, JAMES BLAKE (born 26 September 1988, Enfield in London), heralded in a new decade of DIY gospel/R&B-tinged dubstep electronica. If one can imagine AARON NEVILLE or BON IVER sharing a studio with MOBY, the young James has certainly captured an audience that stretches well beyond his own age group.
Combining his work as a producer under the alias, Harmonix, BLAKE served up a series of 12”/10” singles, opening with 2009’s `Air & Lack Thereof’. `Pembroke’ (shared with Airhead), `The Bells Sketch’, the AALIYAH/KELIS-sampled `CMYK’ (his maiden EP for the R&S imprint) and `Klavierwerke’, were warmly received by a growing fanbase already anticipating his first full-length outing. Backed by A&M and, in turn, Universal in the States, Atlas Records delivered his debut 45, a cover of FEIST’s `Limit To Your Love’, into the UK Top 40. Previewing his self-titled, Top 10 debut set, JAMES BLAKE (2011) {*7}, it was indeed a pity that singles buyers didn’t also take up subsequent 45s, `The Wilhelm Scream’ and the double-header, `Lindisfarne’ b/w `Unluck’. A beautiful and inspired album (try also `Give Me My Month’ and `I Never Learnt To Share’), a six-track EP followed hot on its heels. Entitled `Enough Thunder’, the exclusive platter featured a cover of JONI MITCHELL’s `A Case Of You’ and a BON IVER collaboration, `Fall Creek Boys Choir’.
But for a couple of singles licensed to his past imprints, the following year was spent noodling and sampling in the studio; BRIAN ENO and WU-TANG CLAN’s RZA would find time to guest on respective tracks, `Take A Fall For Me’ and `Digital Lion’. BLAKE’s sophomore set, OVERGROWN (2013) {*8}, was as effective as its predecessor, the Top 10 record –
Top 40 in the US – submerging the man further into heavily-sampled R&B, deconstructed and deciphered to the max. Sombre, stark and, at times, skeletal, the soulful `Retrograde’, `DLM’ and the heavenly bookend, `Our Love Comes Back’, are BLAKE’s rainy-day laments that gel among gorgeous textures served on this wintry set.
Three years ticked by so quickly as BLAKE readied himself on delivering his third rainy-day collection, THE COLOUR IN ANYTHING (2016) {*8}. Having worked with BEYONCE on a few tracks on her “Lemonade” set, a KANYE WEST collaboration was on the cards for track `Timeless’, although the self-proclaimed “greatest living rockstar on the planet” was unavailable to commit. Instead, JB could boast two each from both present-and-correct BON IVER and rapper FRANK OCEAN for respective tracks `I Need A Forest Fire’ (plus `Meet You In The Maze’) and `My Willing Heart’ (plus `Always’). Probably best of all from the Top 20 (US Top 40) record was BLAKE’s ghostly, mood-enhancing opening `Radio Silence’ and the single, `Modern Soul’.
On the back of a cover of DON McLEAN’s `Vincent’ in late 2017, and a minor hit collaboration with JAY ROCK, KENDRICK LAMAR and FUTURE via `King’s Head’, JAMES BLAKE resumed work on his fourth “solo” set. ASSUME FORM (2019) {*7} featured rainy day rapper TRAVIS SCOTT and producers Metro Boomin’ on `Mile High’, whilst the latter team joined falsetto crooner Moses Sumney for the fractured soul of `Tell Them’. It was all rather ethereal and sombre, but for the ANDRE 3000 appearance on `Where’s The Catch?’ and the Mediterranean chanteuse Rosalia duet on the glazy-eyed `Barefoot In The Park’.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2013-May2019

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