Monday, March 21, 2011

Boy Wonder

Lesson of the month: never judge anything, especially James Blake, by its cover. One of my favourite parts of the month of March has been watching the music world, and myself, stumble into an unexpected relationship with the thoughtful singing, songwriting and producing of the 23 year-old baby-faced Brit known as James Blake. Baby-faced he may be, but immature he is not.

In an absolutely unrelated category of music, I have to mention that my first reaction to Blake was (sort of) the same as my first reaction to Christina Aguilera - 'all of that sound came out of that person?' His age and modest appearance aside, it goes without saying that this man packs a lot of vocal punch. The boyish experimentalist garnered early attention from the BBC in the final year of his popular music degree in London, as he was almost immediately coined as a forthcoming electronic producer after some early released tracks. Critical acclaim was an inevitable result of these early releases, seeing as his undeniably powerful pipes (resembling those of an established soul singer or indie artist Antony and The Johnsons) paired with his darling and transcendent production concepts - seemed like a physically and emotionally unlikely capability from a young man of 23. Once you hear his mature and acrobatic vocal ability, you will understand why the noteworthy descriptive word of Blake is, in fact, "young".

A cover of Feist's quiet and sultry single "Limit To Your Love" leaked onto the airwaves early in his career, exploring new possibilities with the overflow of thick, heated groove beneath his soaring vocals. If we thought it took a woman to fulfill the soulful prerequisites of this heavy jazz track, we were wrong.

This month, a single called "The Wilhelm Scream", from his first self-titled 11-track debut was released, featuring two new songs equally worthy of discussion. "The Wilhelm Scream" (below), a jazzy and vocally effortless downtown piece is indeed the focal point, with its humming keyboard effects and clicking drum and guitar combination. A smooth electronic dream, Blake's wise and descending octaves that sing, "I don't know about my dreams anymore," feel like they stay suspended in the air, lingering overtop of the various effects.

By no means does the B-side sit passively in the shadows though - it features short but memorable ballads that truly get your wheels turning about the amount of rising potential this young artist has. "What Was It You Said About Luck" is a simple piano ballad in which his skilled vocal riffs tango around the minimalistic tinkering keys. The end picks up with the accompaniment of gentle orchestral strings, making his lonely heartfelt croons sound theatrical as if they're alone and centre-stage, looking out from the glowing ring of the spotlight. "Half Heat Full" takes place in a higher octave, a howling soprano similar to that of Justin Vernon's. It's a calm, slow-ticking melody fixed with the frill of swooping sounds that echo off the walls of the song. His choir-esque voice is nothing short of soothing. And sometimes, amidst the casual chaos of most music nowadays, I find that I very much appreciate that.

What do you think of this 23 year-old boy wonder?

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