Whoever is handling James Blake’s publicity push is doing a fantastic job. I can’t visit a music blog or peruse a magazine these days without seeing his name.
It’s been a long time since I bought an album without listening to some of it first (one of the circumstances of this modern age) but I took the plunge with Blake. I used to do this all the time – read universal praise about an artist and get so excited I’d plop down what equated to “all the money I had in the world at the time” and hurry home. (The greatest of days were those when I was still buying cassettes and I could pop the tape into my car’s stereo. There’s something about new music while driving that always excited me. Yes, I’m a freak.)
Of course, now I can hear pretty much anything before I buy it. But I decided not to with Blake. I was excited by what I had read and wanted to see if, for a change, the music actually rose to the level of the effusive praise it was receiving.
Well, in the case of James Blake I can say the music press has, as usual, gotten ahead of itself a bit. His first effort, while an incredible debut and an album I’ll no doubt be going back to again and again, is not quite the breakthrough into the mainstream for dubstep that it has been made out to be. It is not the equivalent of Portishead’s Dummy, whose lead single Sour Times brought Bristol’s smoky trip-hop out of the underground and onto mainstream American radio.
Now, of course, radio is irrelevant. But there remains a definite “mainstream” and this is not the album that takes dubstep there. (The ultimate work in the genre remains Burial‘s Untrue – a dark, complicated work that would never, ever fit inside the American consciousness)
The most accessible song on the album, The Wilhelm Scream, is a gorgeous ode to the helplessness one feels when falling in love. (The title refers to a somewhat famous sound effect that has been used in film and television for years – and yes, it was used in Star Wars. You can hear it here.)
While dubstep may yet be looking for its crossover hit, the initial effort from James Blake is a beautiful first step in what I hope is the beginning of a long career.