Meet James Blake
I first heard the music of James Blake, a London based singer-songwriter and electronic music producer, over an early breakfast this past summer. It was my cousin who insisted on some morning music, and her first choice was Blake’s 2011 track “A Case Of You.” Though it began with a rustic piano melody, his haunting voice quickly filled the room, singing memoir-like lyrics that vividly expressed both emotional and visional memories from his past. To me, the song’s most brilliant line goes, “you’re my blood, you’re my holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet, oh I could drink a case of you, darling.” What’s so unique about Blake’s music is that whether the instrumentals are dominated by an overwhelmingly loud electronic beat or gently decorated by the piano, his voice still sounds isolated and powerful. He is truly unlike any other artist I’ve previously come across – bleak, yet soulful, and perhaps robotic are three words that characterize his music. Blake first began under the name Harmonimix in 2009 as an electronic music producer. He produced quite unconventional remixes of songs such as “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child and “Maybes” by Mount Kimbie. Though these date back a few years, they still somehow sound ahead of their time. Think Flume or Disclosure, with more erratic sounds and beeps snapping in and out of the melody unexpectedly. More recently, he released a popular remix of Drake’s “Come Thru” from NWTS. He redoes the track with echoing electronics and his own backup vocals, and it’s rumored that Drake and Blake will be collaborating further in the future. As for his music as a singer-songwriter, Blake released both a full-length self-titled album and a shorter album consisting of just 6 songs in 2011. His music is hypnotizing – the deep, reverberating synths layered with rich piano compositions simultaneously sound hollow and full. On James Blake the album, “The Wilhelm Scream” and “Limit To You Love” demonstrate this unique nature of music quite well.
Most recently, Blake was nominated for Best New Artist at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. The nomination followed the release of his 2013 album, Overgrown, which contained his most popular single to date, “Retrograde.” The popularity and success that followed these complementary productions are undoubtedly justified, as they take his signature sound of heavy synths to an entirely new level. “Retrograde” opens with a striking humming melody and andante beat that slowly moves into the first verse, beginning, “You’re on your own, in a world you’ve grown.” The first chorus follows at the same steady pace, but then the second verse arrives, and this is what makes “Retrograde” the success that it is. The lyrics appropriately go, “Suddenly I’m hit,” with an explosion of synth sounds that is followed by an enticing plea to, “ignore everybody else, we’re alone now.” To get the full effect, this song is best heard with extremely loud speakers and in a closed space. Some other great tracks off Overgrown are “Life Round Here,” on which Blake collaborated with Chance the Rapper and the title track, “Overgrown.”
Though Blake has been creating music for several years now, his career as a singer-songwriter is still in its prime. He’ll be touring through several festivals this summer including the very popular Governor’s Ball in New York. To get a better feel for his music check out his website, Jamesblakemusic.com – it’s a sick compilation of his videos and music set as the backdrop to the site. You can also check him out on Spotify, and listen to “Retrograde” below!