At 23, James Blake has already had a remarkable ride. With one full-length out (this year’s James Blake) and a couple of singles supporting, he’s enchanted an international music community, found himself at the forefront of Britain’s post-dubstep movement, and been nominated for a handful of awards. It almost seems predestined: Blake’s father is James Litherland, formerly of Coliseum, and though he’s done his time in traditional London schools, he’s always been a bedroom artist. Music has been an integral part of his life since boyhood, and he seems to have been gifted with a natural ability to absorb his influences and translate those stems into something beautiful and completely new.
Though dubstep isn’t exactly a new genre, Blake’s interpretation of it isn’t a direct read. He’s folded a diverse collection of influences (many of them American R&B artists) together to shape his sound.
D’Angelo, Arthur Russell, Bon Iver, Feist and Joni Mitchell have all been mentioned in interviews as points of reference, and though all those sounds shine through, Blake’s style has elevated the granular bits into a full-fledged, festival-ready sonic onslaught.
Recorded in his bedroom, his self-titled record was a labor of love. Not just because he wrote and recorded it entirely on his own, but because all along he was being courted by big labels who wanted him to use a producer. He resisted, and though everything happened in a London flat, the results were astounding. Blake’s vulnerable vocals exist between heart-stopping bass, echo, distortion and sonic shock. All the while, the songs maintain a sort of tenderness that feels incredibly powerful next to the depths of the rest.
Perhaps most interesting is the record’s complete restraint and patience. Through all the highs and lows between bombast and quite reflection, Blake’s songs maintain a temperance that many artists twice his age could learn from. The sounds don’t exist for the sake of it: everything is in its right place, nothing over the top, and nothing goes on longer than it should. He’s got a tremendous respect for the space, and it makes a huge difference. This sort of carefully manicured music might not scream ‘music festival’ at you – but after watching him perform at SXSW this year, as well as at Glastonbury and Rock Werchter this year, that notion is seriously challenged. – Paige Maguire, Austinist
Add James Blake to your 2011 Custom Schedule and make sure to catch him Friday, 3:30pm at the Honda Stage.