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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

Album review: James Blake, "James Blake"

By Allison Stewart

Dubstep producer-turned-pop singer James Blake is Britain's next Next Big Thing, though just how big is unclear. Best-case scenario: Blake is an adventurous, almost subversive electronic artist dressed up in a traditional singer-songwriter suit of clothes. Worst-case scenario: He's James Blunt with a vocoder and a better pedigree.

His full-length debut disc suggests the former. At least, mostly: "James Blake" takes regular R&B and folk songs, strips them to the frame, then builds them back up with the assistance of drum machines, samples, sub-bass and vocal loops. In essence, it's an album that has already remixed itself.


A lot of "James Blake" is eerily beautiful, with its songs about loneliness and alienation (such as the great "I Never Learnt to Share" and "The Wilhelm Scream," swaddled in cotton) made all the more eerie and dislocated by their ethereal trappings. Blake's beginnings as a dubstep auteur clearly inform every track, but this isn't dance music: It's music to be sad to.

But as much as "James Blake" is a stunner, there are places where it's all a little much, where the silences begin to feel like an awed hush. And there are too many. Dramatic pauses. In. Unusual. Places. Still, Blake's preternatural confidence, his ability to let songs be, instead of rushing to fill every crevice with sound, is ultimately as impressive as any of the songs themselves.

Recommended tracks: "I Never Learnt to Share," "The Wilhelm Scream"

By Allison Stewart  | February 8, 2011; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags:  James Blake  
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