TRACK LIFE: James Blake – “Retrograde”
Welcome to Track Life, a daily column in which Jacob Knight shares what he thinks to be the best in music, both new and old.
James Blake’s new record, Overgrown, hits stores today (via Republic). The follow-up to his self-titled debut from two years ago, my bet is the record will turn as many people off to Blake as it creates new fans, his arrangements working now as ornate window dressing to frame his baroque, piano house croon. Gone almost entirely are the thumping bass lines associated with Blake’s fascination with keeping dubstep “pure” (a mellow counter-point to the Skrillex led EDM “brostep” movement and its hyper aggro leanings). Though his two-step and bass music roots creep through every now again, the emphasis is ever more laser focused on “soul” and “gospel” than even his more straight faced additions to James Blake.
“Retrograde”, the first single from Overgrown, is certainly the best entry-point to the album (as most singles should be, but oftentimes aren’t), as it finds Blake’s emphasis on being a “singer/songwriter” at the track’s center. It won’t take long for fans from the R&S days to realize that the wonky, wunderkind electro producer is more than likely never coming back. Instead of manipulating his often fragile falsetto into some sort of Daft Punk inspired robot spoken word like on CMYK’s “Footnotes“, Blake is instead going lower end when he intones, “we’re alone now.” It’d almost be sexy if it didn’t sound so utterly otherworldly, but that is James Blake’s greatest weapon: he can lull you into submission even while upending your expectations entirely.