CD OF THE WEEK:James Blake Atlas/Universal****
When he started out producing dubstep singles for Hemlock, Hessle and RS, James Blake probably had dreams of DJ-ing and remixing gigs and maybe, down the road, a live show and album. Less than 18 months later, Blake is one of the Sounds of 2011, an artist with a major label deal, an album that comes with a lot of expectations, and a live show already under critical scrutiny after just a handful of gigs. No one told Blake there would be days like these.
Blake, however, hasn’t changed, hasn’t rearranged one iota of his music, sound or approach. Indeed, this album was recorded long before the machine got going, so it’s a case of the mainstream digging Blake rather than the other way around.
That an album as adventurous, exciting and challenging as this receives so much attention is a reason to be cheerful. Blake’s minimalism is more cause than effect, that sparse palette coming on the back of his desire not to follow the dubsteppers with more warped, dark bassy beats. On their own, his combination of simple, graceful piano and stately, somnolent beats would be intriguing enough, but his cracked, eerie folk voice takes matters into another dimension.
Listen to the ebb and flow on Wilhelm’s Scream, as Blake works up this magical sense of place that will remind you of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis at his most haunted. The folky influences are on show on the brace of Lindesfarnetracks, while Measurementsthrows Blake’s sleepyheaded pitch towards the gospel heavens. His version of Feist’s Limit to Your Loveis a study in elegant precision, all spine-tingling moods and beautiful emotions.
He’s a rare one, James Blake. There will be other albums to champion in 2011, but few will be as ambitious or audacious as this. Better still, it’s just the sound of Blake opening his account. We’ll be hearing from this lad for many, many years to come. See myspace.com/ jamesblake production
Download tracks: Limit to Your Love, Measurements, Wilhelm’s Scream, Lindesfarne I