James Blake – s/t

Rating: ★ · · · ·

After releasing a successful EP in Klavierwerke, James Blake gained a spot on Pitchfork’s list of top fifty albums of 2010 and more recognition in the U.K for his distinct sound of electronic beats and dub-step. As a newcomer to this genre, I did not know what all it entitled, but after listening to this album, I can say that it is not the groundbreaking and delightful experience I thought it would be.

The first song, “Unluck,” feels like a complete and utter mess. Random sounds are mixed over an on-again/off-again beat to create for an electronic disaster, unmotivated and cacophonous.  Then James Blake begins to sing, and if it wasn’t already sounding disorganized, his auto-tuned voice adds just another element of contrast that makes it spin out of control even faster. For the three minutes of it’s duration, it feels like a headache inducing CD that is scratched and has been skipping, which is an interesting way (to say the least) to start an album out.

Thankfully on the next song Blake is more calculated, which is shown through the presence of a consistent beat through the whole song. Here on “Wilhelms Scream” is where I can see how this artist has been categorized into the dub-step genre: heavy bass and drum sound dominate the simplicity of the song, consistent with the genres’ description. Blake drops the heavy auto-tune from his smooth voice, so that the song is easier to listen to than the prior. While it is more soothing than that of the first song, it is still the same in repetitive nature. By the end of the song, it hasn’t really gone anywhere, and has been the monotonous repetition of words since the beginning.

After this song, I was ready to ease my ears and switch to something else that was more than electronic noises made by a computer, but I felt like I needed to be fair to Blake in making sure there were no redeeming qualities to this album before I deemed it an utter mess. Six songs in, I finally found a song that was worth listening to: “Limit to Your Love.” It begins with piano, and I couldn’t help but be driven in to the song on the sheer fact that it began with a physical instrument. Blake does revert to his dub-stepping for bits of the song, but it is tolerable in that it doesn’t become plain and boring as the other songs do. This euphoric sensation lasts through the next song, “Give Me My Month,” which sadly only lasts about two minutes. It is in these songs that I feel similarities to Bon Iver, and wish that Blake would have gone the route of only using small amounts of electronic fringe in his work, instead of relying on it to be the very backbone of his sound.

I’m not sure I understand this whole dub step/auto-tuned phenomenon. Is it the kind of genre where you have to be intoxicated or on some sort of substance that alters your perception? Perhaps I am missing something that is the key to enjoying this kind of music because this does not sound pleasurable to me, at all. If dub-step is your thing, then by all means, this album might rank five stars in your book.