I struggled to understand initially what all the fuss was about with James Blake. While his debut had a handful of standouts, most the record passed me by, sounding to me like decent background dinner-party music. What I was more impressed by was Blake’s terrific cover of Joni Mitchell’s 'A Case Of You', which signalled a move to a soulful, more intimate sound.
It’s that sound which Blake uses as the template for his second album 'Overgrown'. He has carried through the more positive aspects of his debut - the attention to detail and impressive production – but allied this to fuller, more melodic songs which this time pull at the heartstrings as well as the mind.
The title track, which opens the record, is a melancholic, ominous start to the album. The beats build perfectly with Blake’s vocal, reaching an emotionally charged conclusion. 'Retrograde', the first single from the record is equally impactful, a gospel-like ballad underpinned by handclaps which gives way to a euphoric chorus that belies the lyrics “Suddenly I’m hit/Is this darkness of the dawn/And your friends are gone/When you friends won’t come/So show me where you fit”.
'Our Loves Comes Back' is a stunning album closer. Initially starting as torch piano ballad, the song becomes more desolate as the piano gives way to a single beat with Blake emoting over the top. Its power is such that lyrics aren’t necessary. 'Voyeur' is the song closest in spirit to his debut, underpinned its foot-tapping beats. The song has a false finish, with the song stopping for a couple of seconds before the beats take over, transitioning fully into a club song.
The main problem with the record is that many of the songs sound overly similar, at least initially. Although this helps to create a singular mood for the record, you’re left struggling to distinguish between songs, needing repeated listens to unveil their depth. 'Digital Lion' is the exception. A collaboration with the legendary Brian Eno, it is the busiest track on 'Overgrown', with a range of layers of percussion and stuttering rhythms. It could have been a mess but the 'Digital Lion' holds together seamlessly thanks to Blake’s vocal.
Given the mutation of dubstep into brostep, it’s heartening that Blake is evolving the sound in a far more nuanced way, bringing warmth and introspection to it. 'Overgrown'' is not only an album you can get lost in, but also want to get lost in. At only 24 years of age, time on his side and I’m sure he’ll continue to progressing his songwriting further, hopefully demonstrating an even greater variety of dynamics on his next record.
'Overgrown' is available to purchase at amazon.co.uk. Find more info at jamesblakemusic.com.