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  • Overgrown gets an overdue review Posted on 24 May 2015

    Following a wave of excitement for his productions after 'CMYK' on R&S, when James Blake's debut album dropped in 2011, people were throwing the phrase ‘post-dubstep’ around like crazy. Now the dust has settled, he’s here to show how he has grown as a singer-songwriter, as on second album Overgrown you'll find traces of Blake’s voice on every track.

    His careful arrangements fused with dub prove his ability to push boundaries in electronic music in terms of structuring. What strikes you, however, are his touching lyrics delivered delicately. Opener ‘Overgrown’ is quite sombre and shows off his confidence to let his voice carry a song through.

    The standout moment comes early on with ‘I Am Sold’. The intro features a quiet exchange, his stunning voice utters, "Linked like dog to man – I am sold.” With the haunting line, “and we lay nocturnal, speculating what we feel" repeated over hi-hats. The percussion and atmosphere build before a wobble bass being dropped in precisely.

    ‘Life round Here’ has slight R&B vibes, and the beat rolls nicely. Blake gets thoughtful and profound as he states: "Everything feels like touchdown on a rainy day." The same three lines on repeat isn't something everyone can pull off, but Blake seems to do it so effortlessly. The biggest surprise comes from ‘Take a Fall for Me’ which sees Blake link up with Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, the only guest on the record. His flow compliments the instrumental as Blake recurs, "he can’t marry her… yet."

     

    ‘Retrograde’ was the first single from this album to be shown to the world. It was the perfect preface, teasing fans with what to expect. Blake demonstrates some really beautiful lyrical ability here with lots of imagery to it. There’s melodic humming over a basic clap and snare drum beat. "Suddenly I’m hit," he proclaims at the chorus. There are moments of despair as he tells us our friends are gone and they won't come. ‘DLM’ is stripped down to a hesitant piano to accompany Blake’s singing, and he pines, as poetic as ever.

    Just as you thought Blake had forgotten to surprise his listeners he brings in Brian Eno to collaborate on ‘Digital Lion’. Apparently inspired by a gospel record they both love, and the influence can be heard in the harmonies made of Blake’s moaning. In its structuring, it’s probably the most different, with no identified verse or chorus. It has an interlude, a move I appreciate. The song is moody in its climax with shuffling drums, the layering creating an atmospheric production, with a killer bass line.

    ‘To The Last’ is memorable with its aching, "All I see is what you’ve done." There’s gentle chord progression before the song peaks and Blake hits some high notes. The finale ‘Our Love Comes Back’ has abstract harmonies and leaves an optimistic taste.

    Verdict: Bought with no regrets. Every track is unique and emotive, connecting with audiences one way or another. During its longing and hopeful moments, the album is stunningly crafted with subtle touches. It’s no surprise that it went on to win the Mercury Prize in 2013.

    ★★★★★

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