James Blake flew onto the scene with his incredibly unique sound and style in 2011. His self-titled album was one of the most highly regarded projects of the year, featuring amazing songs such as “The Wilhelm Scream” and “Limit To Your Love.” Now, the 24-year-old from London is back with his sophomore album, “Overgrown,” which was released April 9. While this album is far less musically adventurous than “James Blake,” Blake clearly honed in and continued to evolve and expand his electronic alternative sound.
Blake opens the album with the title track, “Overgrown,” in which he sings on the hook, “I don’t wanna be a star, but a stone on the shore.” Blake’s recent rise to fame has clearly affected him; his life has completely changed after the release of his debut album and impressive performances over the last two years.
The most surprising track from the album is “Take A Fall For Me,” which features RZA, formerly part of the Wu-Tang Clan. RZA raps, “I need you like I need satisfaction,” as the haunting keys and Blake’s looped vocals echo in the background. While it seems like an odd pairing, Blake recently mentioned that he’s been working in the studio with Jay-Z and Kanye West, proving that he not only has gained the attention of superstars but that his reach is far beyond his niche sound.
The highlight of the album comes with the lead single, “Retrograde,” which might be one of the best songs released so far this year. Blake’s vocals provide a calm chill throughout the record, which reaches its climax with masterfully orchestrated synthesizers that drive Blake’s lyrics into the ears of the listener as he says, “Suddenly I’m hit; is this the darkness of the dawn? When your friends are gone, when your friends won’t come. So show me where you fit.” The power and energy in his voice and the production make this an incredibly powerful song — one that should be talked about when Grammy season rolls around in 2014.
“Retrograde” is followed by the piano-led ballad “DLM,” in which Blake soulfully sings out about a dying relationship. On the chorus, he sings out repeatedly, “Please don’t let me hurt you more, it’s in your stare and at your core.” The emotion in this song bleeds out through the honest lyrics and gentle piano accompaniment. While it is the simplest track both musically and lyrically, it stands out over other tracks from the album.
“Digital Lion,” which features Brian Eno, is the only track on the album that Blake did not produce. However, it is one of the stronger records. Other standouts from “Overgrown” include “Voyeur” and “I Am Sold.”
The album, while short in length (only 39 minutes and 22 seconds), is filled with incredible production from front to back that shatters all genre barriers with its eclectic mix of sounds and synthesizers. Blake’s vocals and lyrics provide power and strong meaning to his elaborate production, and once again, he delivers a very impressive album. If Blake continues on this trend, he’s going to be a star for years to come.
If you want to see James Blake live, he will be performing Saturday, May 11, at the Theatre of Living Arts.