In recent years, hype has often led to fantastic letdown. Most notably in the digital age, where no hope still exists for a proper release, artists have had to combat the wave of early releases mixed with harsh criticism before the work gets a proper release. Arcade Fire, whose 2004 album Funeral brought with it a trove of heartache and hope that has defined our zeitgeist, bled into 2006’s Neon Bible, an album so canonized, its release almost seemed dwarfed by its grand hype.
Fast forward to 2011: The Strokes have finally announced a follow-up to 2006’s First
Impressions of Earth, Fleet Foxes have started to stream Helplessness Blues as a second helping, and Panda Bear has released what are sure to be demo versions as singles from his April release, Tomboy. Then James Blake; three wildly polarized EPs released in 2010 have almost all but placed him as the crown prince of minimalist/dubstep in the UK – all he needs now is to marry his Kate Middleton and have his hype pass on.
Wild projections surrounded his Februrary 7th self-titled release. Different from his
EPs, which primarily focus on sampling and choppy breakbeat, his debut LP has shifted his focus to songwriting first, which is perhaps most evident on tracks ‘The Wilhelm Scream,’ ‘To Care (Like You),’ and ‘Measurements.’ As a starting point, ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ is an example of how theme and tone match lyricism, which is the pinnacle for which writers strive to elicit the most jarring emotional effect. “I don’t know about my dreams/I don’t know about my dreamin’ anymore/all that I know is/I’m fallin’, fallin’, fallin’” is the sonic equivalent to watching a person slowly tumble off a cliff, as the title
alludes to the stock-sound clip littered across modern film.
As for transitions on the album, the Lindesfarne suite both sets up his excellent Feist cover, but also can stand on its own. This is again where James Blake excels where others have failed; even if Blake added ‘Lindesfarne I&II’ as an afterthought, it doesn’t seem like he’s forcing the album forward into ‘Limit to Your Love,’ which, upon a first or 50th listen, sounds like it always should have been Blake’s to own (with no discredit to Leslie Feist).
Ubiquitous across James Blake is his notable use of the pregnant pause; he draws the listener in, especially on the opener ‘Unluck,’ with purposeful syncopation and distortion, not to fill the space but to expand the sound. Silence can have a profound effect on meaning, especially in emphasizing what was not said, what was not meant, what was not heard.
Unfortunately, James Blake’s album leaked within 24 hours of its announcement on December 20th, and has been subject to over a month of scrutiny, mostly for the good. This doesn’t excuse the Internet or its thirst for the next big thing, and it only serves to build up the hype even more. But where Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs fails to match its predecessor(s) and Dr. Dre’s Detox can’t be good, James Blake has little hype to live up to.
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