James Blake, Heaven, London
Wednesday 10 April 2013
“So show me where you fit,” the beanpole (6'5'') dubstep singer trembles on "Retrograde", from his pioneering new album Overgrown. James Blake, to his immense credit, doesn't easily "fit" anywhere. The 24-year-old, who resembles Ben Whishaw with his choir-boy good looks and Justin Bieber hair, is one of our most uncategorisable artists and he's all the better for it.
The cerebral experimentalist from Enfield has discussed relishing the “science of sound” and has described his Mercury-award nominated debut record, James Blake, as “an introspective whisper”. And some of his muted, low-fi electronic tracks come across like sinister Gregorian chants in this tunnel-shaped venue.
What's clear about this distinctive artist is that his music is not hummable and certainly not danceable to. The hushed, rapt crowd (save for some hubbub at the back and sides) remain mainly motionless throughout this off-kilter, bass-heavy (sometimes it's like listening to a chiffchaff warbling in a barrel) ceremony. It's an intense, even occasionally demanding, experience but the lofty Blake is a hypnotic performer, attacking his keyboards like a crazed puppeteer.
“I appreciate that you're out in such numbers tonight,” Blake mumbles, somewhat disingenuously, on a rare occasion of in-between song dialogue. With the huge amount of coverage and critical praise he's been garnering for Overgrown he must have known it would be rammed tonight, and we're treated to polished renditions of standout new tracks “Overgrown”, the exquisite “Our Love Comes Back” (where he repeatedly pleads “Our love comes back in the middle of the night”) and “Digital Lion” (a track enhanced by Brian Eno's trickery on the album, sadly the maestro's missing here).
Blake's juddering, frequently unnerving sounds come across like giddy mix of Talk Talk's Mark Hollis, Jamie xx, Portishead, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead (most noticeably Kid A), and his voice is an astonishing and unusual instrument. There's a touch of Nick Drake's plaintive ache and speckles of Antony Hegarty's vibrato baritone about this singer's stricken vocal delivery. And his voice soars on his final number tonight, a gorgeous cover of Joni Mitchell's “A Case of You”.
“I don't want to be a star, but a stone on the shore,” Blake maintains on “Overgrown”, but at this rate this understated, feverishly inventive musician could be huge presence on the British music scene for quite some time.
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