This James Blake article was written by Katie Dove, a GIGsoup contributor
For British artist James Blake, 2013 meant the release of his much anticipated second full length album ‘Overgrown’, which followed his highly successful, self-titled, debut. Throughout the record Blake takes you on an emotionally fueled lyrical and somewhat intricate musical journey. His sound, although undeniably unique, doesn’t necessarily make for an easy enjoyable listen; however, that might just be the reason it’s award winning. Against all odds and predictions James Blake’s ‘Overgrown’ made him 2013’s winner of The Mercury Prize, but how does it shape up compared to it’s competition that year?
Title track ‘Overgrown’ starts the album on a somewhat steady, slow and somber note, whilst it may not be the most exciting of listens, it certainly does showcase just how stunning Blake’s vocals are. Just a couple of minutes in and you are completely aware that he has the ability to transport you to another place with his voice alone.
As you listen on, the track ‘Take A Fall On Me’, featuring guest vocals from, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, provides a refreshing change of pace and much needed injection of life. This blend of indie and rap makes for a simply great collaboration and quickly becomes an album highlight.
James himself states that he was ‘really pissed off…’ one morning at around 7am when he started writing ‘Retrograde’ as a result of an irritating phone call. Following up almost instantly with; ‘and it turned into a song, so that was worth it’. Was it worth it? Absolutely. ‘Retrograde’ offers one of the richest sounding tracks on the album, with the use of synthesizers, keyboards, his mesmerizing vocals and the gentle beat, almost mimicking a heart beat, keeps the song’s pace throughout makes it one of the best this album has to offer.
As the record unfolds it slowly becomes apparent that the album itself may not have too many stand alone tracks, ‘Overgrown’ works as a collection but when if you were to break it down, there are tracks that would simply just fade into the background.
The quality of the album and it’s production is indisputable, but was it a worthy winner? When it made the shortlist in 2013 it wasn’t anyone’s favourite to win and when you look at who it was up against… David Bowie, Laura Marling, Jake Bugg and the Arctic Monkey’s. That’s some pretty tough competition.
So, what is it that’s lacking? Simple; variety and a fully enjoyable listen. When you compare ‘Overgrown.’ with David Bowie’s long awaited comeback ‘The Next Day’ filled with wonderfully weird and complicated tracks, or, with Arctic Monkey’s indie anthem filled ‘AM’ you do start to ask how it was a winner. 2013 was the year Marling released her beautiful, predominately solo album, ‘Once I was an Eagle.’ proving that she just keeps getting better and better with time.
Everyone loves an underdog, and Blake’s album is good, but award winning? For an album with such a repetitive theme and consistent melancholy vibe, it’s clear to see why a few were a little surprised at the 2013 winner … but as history has shown the Mercury Prize never conforms, and maybe that’s its charm.