James Blake, Liquid Room, Edinburgh
Thursday 01 September 2011
A little under an hour has passed, and James Blake has arrived at the end of his show, bar one last, luscious, understated reading of "The Wilhelm Scream". "I actually haven't got much music, I don't know if you've noticed," laughs the singer and electronic composer to cheers from the crowd. Possibly they haven't noticed, because what had gone before was a rich, evocative and often ground-breaking core of work, which sums up this most deservedly fêted (and, indeed, Mercury-nominated) young artist.
Bringing a drummer and a guitarist with him, Blake provides that most seemingly simple of sounds, the blindingly obvious and the previously unheard of all rolled into one package. Here, "Unluck" is a delicately primal opener, a wash of sparse, clicking drums and Blake's unearthly vocodered vocal. This dehumanising voice synthesiser is an instrument Blake makes an unlikely feature of, its odd, mellifluous tremble adding to the sense of dystopian disconnection in the music.
His own unaltered singing voice might be warmer and more human, but there's still a lonely, late-night sadness to it, as evidenced by the fragility of piano ballad "Give Me My Month", Blake's vocal intonation reminiscent of Antony Hegarty. "Tep and the Logic", a sparse sci-fi soundtrack with a reedy hummed vocal, introduces that other familiar trope of Blake's work, the deep dubstep bass grind that seems so at odds with the tender voice. It returns to a lesser extent in the funeral beat of "I Never Learnt to Share" and the glistening synthesised dub of "Lindisfarne", and soothes like a warm massage during Blake's "semi-slow jam" "To Care (Like You)".
The early single "CMYK", recently restored to his set, comes to bounce to a samba-styled beat before it's through, and there are not just heavy overtones of dubstep in the more familiar closing trio of "Limit to Your Love", "Klavierwerke" and "The Wilhelm Scream", but also flashes of drum'n'bass and old-fashioned chilled-out house. This music is all about the voice and the bassline on first listen, but there's so much more going on just beneath the surface, at odds with the image of the tall and gangly man barely out of his teens who stands at the end to nervously tell us: "Thank you, this has been a great night." He does, we discover in the encore, have a new song after all – the simplest, starkest piano ballad of all, in which he insists "we can hope for heartbreak". It fits the template of a new and original sound of which Blake is a lone pioneer.
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