Category: Music Reviews

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James Blake – James Blake

Apparently, if you believe the media, dubstep has a saviour and electronic music has a new wunderkind. His name is James Blake. The Londoner released a couple of EPs in 2010 to widespread acclaim. Blake looked set to crossover to the mainstream when the album dropped. However, now that it’s here, the feeling is underwhelming.
Blake fortunately refused the obnoxious “wubwubwub” bass lines that are being generically tagged to his genre, opting for a more paired-back, minimalist approach. Whilst this works for certain tracks (Album highlights ‘Wilhelm Scream’ and the truly stunning Feist cover ‘Limit to your Love’), throughout the album, it tends to wear. The album starts to blend together (‘Lindesfarne I’ blends into ‘Lindesfarne II’ on purpose) and it starts to drain the listener. Tracks such as ‘Measurements’ and ‘I Mind’ would have been benefited by a slightly more full, richer production.

Production is not Blake’s only forte: his stunning croon is a constant star, shining throughout the album. ‘Unluck’ and ‘To Care (Like You)’ show true emotion on what can come across as bland tracks. Unfortunately, Blake has a tendency to apply a filter or effect to his vocals (often doing this with multi-tracked vocals) which is a shame. This is either because he’s too shy to demonstrate the full capacity of his voice or this is Blake precociously over-producing himself (this reviewer’s money is on the latter). Whatever it is, it doesn’t work.

The album truly does fall between the hype of the media and the blogosphere and the perennial ‘haters’. Blake certainly does have talent; anyone who listened to the ‘CMYK’ EP knows this. The album shows flashes of this brilliance and indicates there will be a future for him. However, the flashes of brilliance are drowned in a sea of tedium and filler; led by Blake’s ability to sound over-produced AND under-produced at the same time. It’s like the art-school kid who takes 82 photos of a pair of shoes for his assignment, it’s cool and arty, but he’s really just a hipster with an SLR.

James Blake isn’t the messiah dubstep is looking for. That’s Mount Kimbie.
Blake’ll give them a run for their money, though. Just you watch.

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The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

The Decemberists took a lot out of themselves with their 2009 epic song cycle The Hazards Of Love. It came directly after their other concept album The Crane Wife, and frontman Colin Meloy now says that, with their new album, he “just wanted to play some normal songs!”. So the quintet holed up in a converted barn outside of their home city of Portland, with the aim of returning to the songwriting style of their first three albums.

The focus has shifted back to stunning lyrical complexity and simple yet beautiful vocal melodies. Meloy’s delivery is as earnest and warm as ever, making his descriptions of sweeping landscapes seem unpretentious. The King Is Dead benefits hugely from the guest vocals of folk royalty Gillian Welch on seven of the ten songs. Welch and Meloy’s voices lock together perfectly in harmony on tracks like ‘Down By The Water’.

Long time fans will miss the way The Decemberists’ earlier songs tell different characters’ stories, with Meloy slipping in and out of these fictional personas with conviction and ease. Instead, the lyrical focus lies on the pastoral landscapes that informed and surrounded the album. The bucolic setting of the recording can be clearly heard throughout the album. The slide guitar and drifting harmonica are done tastefully enough to avoid falling into cliche’s.

Meloy admits to the influence of R.E.M. on the album; he even got their guitarist Peter Buck on board. He plays guitar on ‘Down By The Water’ and ‘Calamity Song’, and mandolin on ‘Don’t Carry It All’.

Another guest on the album is Annalisa Tornfelt, who plays in bluegrass band Black Prairie with the other members of the band. ‘All Arise!’, record opener ‘Don’t Carry It All’ and ‘Rox In The Box’ feature her sharp violin strains.

It’s refreshing to know that The Decemberists have kept a sense of perspective, and have not drifted into musical obscurity by making another risky concept album. They describe the transition between Hazards and their new album as “like going from reading a novel to reading a bunch of short stories.”