Sunday, 10 February 2013

Track Review: James Blake - Retrograde

James Blake released his self-titled debut album in 2011 after releasing three strong EPs, The Bells Sketch, CMYK and Klavierwerke. His debut album was a step away from the electronic, dubstep beats and leaned towards a downtempo / soul vibe. Of course, Blake only slightly fits into all of these categories, he is the hybrid, he is the popular 'post-dubstep' musician and his music is followed by many. "Retrograde" is the first single taken from his sophomore album Overgrown, which is due out April 8th.

The singer-songwriter once was a touring keyboardist for Warp Records Mount Kimbie. Now the tables have turned and it's James Blake who's in the spotlight. Overgrown will be released before news of a second Mount Kimbie album is even announced. "Retrograde" has been released without a critical reception. All the usual suspects have written articles literally saying 'here's the new James Blake single, it's awesome, go buy it'. Sure, "Retrograde" is similar to the minimalism and atmosphere of James Blake, but it’s not quite the same. One of the major negatives towards Blake is his ability or lack thereof to create tracks that vary from tight love songs to deep bass driven progressions. He's neither Mount Kimbie, nor Digital Mystikz. Blake worries about the perception people have about his music, and what genre they label him. I have first-hand experience of listening to him reject the label post-dubstep stamped on his head. He doesn't like it, calling himself the Prince of electronic music. This dissatisfaction with genres and his new rise to a mainstream audience has clearly had an effect, and we can't wait to hear the affects.

"Retrograde" features an extremely catchy vocal hook which has been stuck in my head ever since those bad quality radio rips. The keyboard progressions are James Blake-esque, without the clarity of his Enough Thunder EP. He has layered vocals throughout the track, using his voice as an instrument, putting across the soulful nature of his sound. There's another synthesizer with fuzzy sounds, just like "I Never Learnt to Share". It's not as bass heavy or atmospheric as his previous EPs and album, but it's certainly an exciting single that uncovers the growing musicianship of Blake. The hand claps are bland, sounding like a 2008 fruity loops original. Ignoring the computerised hand clap feature, it does in fact work in "Retrograde". Like every Blake track to date, his arrangements fit together wonderfully. Instead of perceiving Blake to be a boring old fart that has matured far too quickly, "Retrograde" turns back his clock and adds a playful and pleasant touch to an austere back catalogue.

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