When Retrograde exploded onto our airwaves earlier in the year, James Blake fans were thrown into a frenzy of anticipation as we waited to see what the follow-up to his self-titled 2011 debut album had to offer. Overgrown is available now, and as expected delivers a diverse mix of James Blake complexity. After so much success thus far, Blake has returned with a truly remarkable second album, targeting ‘emotional impact’.
First single off the album, Retrograde, is just a taste of many standout tracks, and Blake has hit every mark in delivering a beautifully crafted love song, which was written about his current girlfriend. And with the exploration of falling in love being at the forefront of themes throughout the album, there are plenty of opportunities to feel the explosion similar to the impressively delivered ‘Suddenly I’m hit’, in Retrograde.
Blake wrote the album title track Overgrown, inspired by Joni Mitchell herself, after they met when Mitchell attended one of Blake’s shows in LA. Blake declares that it’s the best song he’s ever written, and that it embodies the notion of permanence, ‘I don’t want to be a star but a stone on the shore, a lone doorframe in a war’.
If you wouldn’t expect to hear a rap song on a James Blake album, think again. ‘He can’t marry her yet’, is the emotive opening line to Take A Fall For Me, an unlikely collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, where we are thrown into a mixture of signature Blake vocals that float off into unrecognisable words, popping up between RZA’s poignant verses. It stands out as another James Blake experiment that we take as part of our journey, and on an album inspired by love, it has its own place.
A must-listen is DLM, in which Blake pleads, ‘Please don’t let me hurt you more’, with an intricate background of echoing layered vocals, sung over simple and clean classical piano. Morphing vocals in and out of recognisable lyrics adds a spooky and deep component to the messages in his music and Blake is incredibly gifted at delivering this so effortlessly.
Feel like a dance? Don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed. Feeling most comfortable with the constant evolution and mutation of dance music, Blake drops a substantial amount of bass in Digital Lion and will leave your head spinning at the end of Voyeur, which is guaranteed to make you dance on the spot.
Musically, Overgrown as a whole breaks down boundaries, incorporating electronic beats, soulful, unforgettable vocals and elements of dubstep. Rather than being bound by a specific genre, each and every song has been carefully written to forcefully reject any kind of labelling. From bass-heavy R&B in Life Round Here, to some soulful heart-wrenching mantra in Our Love Comes Back, Blake delivers diversity.
Blake has certainly ventured far from his earlier days of mixing classical piano, scattered drums and chilling wordless vocals in disjointed intensity. With a greater focus on songwriting, Blake has moved more towards, as he puts it, “wanting to make music that people will really remember and love”. With much more clarity in his vocals, and a clear self portrait on the album cover, like it or not, James Blake is a star.