ALBUM REVIEW: James Blake – Overgrown

Overgrown artwork
Overgrown artwork

ARTIST James Blake

ALBUM Overgrown

LABEL Republic

RELEASE DATE 9.4.2013

8.2 | 10

James Blake is one of those rare artists in the DIY-era that has lived up to the hype. He burst onto the scene as one of the most buzzed about artists in electronica as he released three very well received EP’s at the ripe old age of 21. By the time he turned 22 he was getting major airplay from Zane Lowe with his fantastic cover of “Limit To Your Love,” a song first made famous by Feist. That he has been able to maintain a level of musicianship ever since, always in control of the direction his music goes in, is a rare feat for an artist so young.

2011’s James Blake cemented his position as one of the brightest young artists in the UK, yet it was still evident from that release that – despite his unarguable talents – he was still a much better songwriter in theory rather than in practice. Overgrown, his latest album, shows his exponential growth as a songwriter; instead of being a master at distilling certain moods into his audience, he has shown that he is capable of writing fantastic songs that never compromise his vision. The songs on Overgrown pop with a certain immediacy not felt on his debut, and each one sounds as though it could top the charts for weeks on end.

Blake covered the Joni Mitchell classic “A Case of You” in 2012, a fascinating re-imagining of one of the best songs from one of the greatest female voices of the 20th century. Mitchell’s influence can be seen from the get go as the title track is carried by Blake’s vocals, which recall Mitchell’s own strength-through-vulnerability approach. From there, Blake’s penchant for creating a hypnotic melody only intensifies as on the excellent “I Am Sold” and “Life Round Here,” the latter of which is a nod to late-90s R&B, most notably the Destiny’s Child classic “Bills, Bills, Bills.” He dabbles in urban music territory here more than anywhere else in his discography, most notably on the excellent RZA (yes, that RZA) featuring cut “Take a Fall For Me.” Blake essentially plays the role of background singer as he painfully sings, “He can’t marry her yet,” allowing the emcee to shine as he always should.

“Dlm” is perhaps the most jarring track here, as it features Blake alone on a piano, and it is the most apparent instance of the singer finding himself in his zone, fully exposed yet undeterred by his new surroundings. Overgrown is the work of an artist at the peak of his game, time-and-time again shocking us by taking us in directions we didn’t know he even wanted to go. Such as on “Voyeur,” where that last minute breakdown is perhaps the most exhilarating moment on this record. After so much introspection, one would expect Blake to end the track with an ambient drone, yet instead he reminds us that he is one hell of a producer and gives the listener a frantic house-inspired finale. This album is a logical expansion of Blake’s talents, and shows the songwriter worthy of the lofty praise that fell upon him at the beginning of his career in an age where the first impression is most often the most memorable.

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