This is probably the most-anticipated album of 2011, thanks to the promise of Blake's lavishly praised EPs, which have conjured the ghost of Aaliyah ("CMYK" draws brilliantly from "Are You That Somebody?") while deploying a innovative sense of dubstep's space and silence. (See the starts and stops and teasing not-there quality of "I Only Know (What I Know Now)" for an example.) Here, Blake adopts a more traditional pop vocal songwriting approach akin to his cover of Feist's "Limit to Your Love," which is included. The result teeters between Kid A-era Radiohead angst and something a lot more interesting and unique — a singular interplay between the possibilities of composition and production.
Whereas most recording artists are at best producers or composers, Blake fuses the two, wielding textural shifts like chord changes. The studio version of "Wilhelm Scream" isn't as revelatory as the one from his recent BBC session, but other tracks on James Blake share that songs' effective foregrounding of a simple, endlessly reworked, three-or-four-line lyrical mantra. The offhand conversational honesty of "I Never Learnt to Share" — entire lyric: "My brother and my sister don't speak to me / And I don't blame them" — goes from confessional solitude to Stevie Wonder-like funky freedom, remaining compellingly unhinged from start to finish. Where he goes from here will be interesting to see — and hear.
James Blake, "The Wilhelm Scream" (Live BBC Session):
James Blake, James Blake album sampler: