Written By Simon Chisholm
James Blake is a British electronic producer and songwriter. After a number of E.P releases and rising fame, he released his self-titled LP in early 2011. I was introduced to the post dub step sounds of James Blake when my brother showed me a beautiful live performance of the song ‘Wilhelm’s Scream’ at the BBC.
James Blake creates sparsely textured sound-scapes using slow throbbing electronics, processed sounds, synthesisers, percussion and vocoders. The textures vary subtly based on the mood; the vocal and accompaniment layering define the arrangements.
The grooves and sounds are disjointed in some places, and at times the songs are harmonically dramatic. The overall sound is chilled out and easy to listen to. Being an electronic producer it’s only natural for Blake to make use of House-like beats and coincidentally house-like grooves. The backbeats feature some rather severe rhythmic pieces, most likely achieved through directly editing the waveform, and sampling. This severity gives some of the tracks a rigid, disjointed feel, and other times the accompaniment is relaxed and free; the contrast feels refreshing.
Blake delivers his vocals in such a way that it sounds like crying; there is a sense of strain and desperation. The melodies are sung at the top of his range, but not falsetto, giving that strained sound. The main body of the songs consist of vocal layering. The lyrics are simple, making use of repetition, layering, flowing melodic contours and melismas (one syllable sung over more than one note).
The main accompanying instrument is piano, whose performance is very dynamic in it’s use of volume, attack, flourishes and relaxed feel. At times the piano takes on a classic ‘pop’ role. Other accompanying instrumentation includes elements including clicks, pings, slaps, shakers, noise, and various sampled percussion sounds. There is a sense that a lot of the performances were derived from experimentation with sound and manipulation. The use of electronic sounds promotes interest in the backing tracks.
‘James Blake’ released in 2011 by ATLAS. Produced by James Blake.