What it means to me

James Blake: James Blake

As I am right now beginning to listen the first song of the album, Unluck, I remember exactly that I was not fond of it the first time I heard it back in the beginning of 2011. I was not really a big fan of electronic music at that time and my musical horizon was fairly limited to indipendent music. Because James Blake’s eponymous debut album received such critical acclaim I was almost forced to give it a try. Unfortunately it just did not seem to be for me. In the following months I was introduced to more and more electronic music, also partly due to Sufjan’s The Age of Adz (see my 2nd post). So when I stumbled upon a different song of the album, The Wilhelm Scream, I eventuelly did begin to fall in love.

There were a few records that I considered writing about, one of the major reasons I have chosen James Blake is the current time of year. I deeply link this album to the season of autumn. It is saying a lot that this is already the second album out of the first three that, once this post is published, I will have reviewed, which is a milestone in my life from the year 2011. While The Age Of Adz defines the time leading up to me moving out of town and beginning a new life, this record represents the adjustment to a new town, new responsibilities and the transition from school to university.

Almost 4 years ago to the day I went to the city of Frankfurt, which is approximately one hour by train from the town I was living in at the time, to see Blake’s concert as part of a birthday gift from my parents. It was amazing and the record even grew in significance by virtue of that experience.

Due to the release of a few EPs in 2009 and 2010 a lot of hype was building around this virtually unknown producer from England. BBC’s “Sound of 2011” poll, which tries to name the artist mostly likely to achieve major success in the upcoming year, placed Blake as second, furthermore enhancing the buzz around his music.

The british singer was able to deliver with his self-titled masterpiece, single-handedly creating his own genre. He set himself apart from the UK’s dubstep trend of the previous years. His music was labeled as post-dubstep and the combination of elements of electronic music, R&B and soul was paving the way for artists such as Frank Ocean, AlunaGeorge or FKA Twigs to expand the genre of Neo-R&B. We were able to experience a trend of blurring of borders between single genres the last few years. The foundation stone for this evolution was set in the year of 2011, arguably initiated by James Blake.

The album is hailed as a celebration of silence. Delicate pauses and ever so subtle transitions play a key role in Blake’s oeuvre. A great example of this phenomenon is the song Lindisfarne I, which regularly incorporates stretches of complete and utter silece of almost 8 seconds (I was counting). The songs seem to merge an astounding tension between simplicity and complexity. The aforementioned track Unluck slowly builds up a wall of sound, discards it entirely before granting it complete dominance in an instant. I Never Learnt To Share carefully develops its sound, step by step adding a layer, and eventually climaxes in a drop of bass which will make the neighbours complain.

The lyrics are often repetitive, which is allowing for an even greater significance. The few simple lines of The Wilhelm Scream (“I don’t know about my dreams, I don’t know about my dreaming anymore” and “I don’t know about my love, I don’t know about my loving anymore”) seemed oddly relatable to me, as at the time I was suffering from insomnia, which was arguable caused by a growing uncertainty about my life’s path (dreams) and the relationship to my girlfriend (love).

The special edition of the LP, which is in my possession, includes the also great Enough Thunder EP.

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