In a little under a year James Blake has become the critical darling of non-mainstream music fans and critics thanks to his 3 independent EPs. Now that his major label debut is here, eyes have fallen all over James’ body of work like Pam Anderson in the 90s. Next month he shares Fader’s cover with Wiz Khalifa, Pitch4k awarded it a 9.0, and the Guardian’s review at times came off like Blake was the greatest thing to happen to life since the invention of email. Of course with this praise comes expectations and assumptions that can handicap the listening experiences. Thankfully, while the album is forward thinking, it’s more accessible than some make it out to be.
Blake accentuates his already established sound with processed vocals and calculated sound engineering that tweaks the facade of songs without shaking their core. His deceptively minimalist compositions mask the multitude of influences that he breaks to pieces and partly reassembles for his dub-steppin’ Gospel electronics. His impressionist reductionist approach to repatative lyrics hover over and fill the spaces of his fractured and highly emotive rhythms. Songs seem to gasp for breath, exhale and find confidence in their brooding compunction. James’ melodies, though unique, tend to linger in the mind like a popular jingle. Overall James Blake is a good album with great moments; here are my three favorites:
THE WILHELM SCREEM: the second single seems to be the child of Sea Change era Beck enlisting the help of Sade (the band) as they ruminate over love and create a form of ambient dub. The song’s cold rainy day tenderness grows from a whisper to a restrained wail of acceptence and wonder. If some one has any sense it could define a scene or meaning of a good drama.
LINDISFARNE I / LINISFARNE II: is really one song broken into two pieces. The first part has what sounds like a cybernetic vocal detached from its body aimlessly singing through empty space looking for lover, body and revenge. In part two, the vocal finds or reconnects with what it has lost through a pulsing metronome anchoring a romantic acoustic guitar and meloncholic words. It’s the type of eerie Romanticism that ultimately leaves the head nodding and the face smiling.
LIMITS OF YOUR LOVE: the albums first single is a soaring cover of the Fiest original. It bares a kinetic earnestness through the lead piano portions only to stomp around in relief as it breaks into its choruses. The real payoff comes in the last minute where Blake channels the ghost of King Tubby into the most slapping vocal-less gangster of drums and bass found anywhere this year. It makes me wanna joyfully kick shit over just for being near me.
Ultimately, James Blake’s debut deserves an iPad with a cracked screen, a holographic image of Natalie Portman projected into ur living room, and a $50 bottle of whiskey.
AMPUTECHTURE REVISITED: Gold Standard Laboratories / Universal (2006)
The winter winds and rain that create the chalked bong grayness of this time of year usually facilitates one of my excursions into Mars Volta listening binges. I’ve come to understand, outside my cousin, The Mars Volta is a completely singular experience. I don’t want others typical discomfort levels to bother my listening sessions.
This time I threw in my least favorite of their works Amputechture. Their third studio album the band refers to as their “autistic child”, due to fan response. Though critics were generally more than fair and supportive in their assessment of the album, it hit fans with a thud. Following the conceptual epic marvels of De-Loused and Frances, Amputechture was a departure from concepts and strung together compositions. All eight songs were described by the group as stand alone songs.
Through the concepts were absent, the ambition and granduer is still present. If any negative criticism emerged from the release of the first two records it was that TMV greatest weakness would eventually become their sonic excess and lyrical pretension. That argument is most apparent on this record, but not without some very illustrious songs and moments.
Amputechture, a hybrid of the words, amputate and architecture, begins with the riggamortis romanticism of “Vicarious Atonement”. Swirling guitars surround frontman Cedric’s anatomical poetics with an ominous calm for seven minutes before the bombast begins. “Tetragrammaton” (a Hebrew word for God) begins with 6 minutes juxtaposing the elegant with the rambunctious, as the band works together to masterfully express the best of prog rock’s terrestrial leanings. Yet, after the opening minutes the song unravels into rapid combative dissonance, that only impressionistically touches its opening. For the next 11 minutes the band revels in its own cluttered improvisational vision.
The following “Vermicide” finds the band at its most restrained and accessible. Clocking in at a little over four minutes, TMV stay true to the songs structure and chorus, and produce a somber but forceful song thats meaning is ubiquitous. “Meccamputechtue” than explodes with is sax flourishes and power chord riffs of sluggishly pounding hard rock. As with “Tetragrammaton”, this song pulls its dick out and aims for the attention of the cosmos. Though nicely complete with all its electronic manipulation and change ups by the seven minute mark, The Mars Volta for some reason choose to extend the song for another 4 minutes of unnecessary sax soloing ambient kraut rock.
Luckily the album returns to earth with the Spanish sung balladry of “Asilos Magdalena”. A mostly acoustic duet between TMV brain trust Omar and Cedric, the song is the most standard, transparent and easily enjoyable on the album. Its knives holding lover lullaby gives way to the epic album single “Viscera Eyes”. Its 9 plus minutes is a penultimate example of why TMV is the shit. A rollicking number of celestial punk-funk that builds, expands and breaksdown into program rock mastery. Instead of the band showing off for each other they compliment and accentuate each other’s strengths. Without a doubt it would make my Best of TMV disc.
The last two songs are their band’s experiments and introversion gone haywire. After a jaw dropping opening bass solo by Juan Alderete, “Day of the Baphomets” alone has six change ups within the first 4 minutes, and it only escalates to deeper schizophrenic and frenetic levels. Its this type of ambition and lack of editing that had made the last three TMV records contentious among critics and fans. Though nowhere near the mess those Michael Cera music loving louts over at Pitchfork have try to make the band out to be, Amputechture is still The Mars Volta’s weakest record, though it’s high’s are music to revel in. Though not about a concept, a theme of a mangled body and psyche due to religious and political institutions emerges. Without a doubt I’ll continue to play this record for the next few days.
In honor of the Volta themselves I’ll rate this album: three mutated fly bitches, a 40 oz of Mickey’s and a pack of American spirits.