Friday, February 25, 2011

James Blake. Substance to the Hype

Since music began every once in awhile a musician would come along that would garner praise across the board.  Hyped as the musical second coming of Christ that was about to change the music scene forever. Recently such high praise has been heaped upon the delicate shoulders of a 23 year old Londoner by the name of James Blake. Blake has been composing and producing his own brand of post-dubstep electronic jams for a relatively short period of time. Blake was a live member of London production team Mount Kimbie but, it was around this time last year that I first heard of James Blake with the release of his eps "Air and lack thereof" and "The bells Sketch". These were mostly instrumental affairs with the odd sample of Blake's own manipulated vocal lines used sporadically throughout. The production was perhaps what impressed more so than the content of the songs themselves.

It was Blake's preceding eps that really got the hype train rolling. His rnb sample heavy "CMYK" and a far more low key affair in his "Klavierwerke EP" impressed not only production wise but his odd structures and hypnotic loops really pushed his sound into a direction distinct from his first two releases. By the end of 2010 James Blake was being mentioned on blogs in every corner of the world and with the announcement of his first full length set to be released early 2011 the attention on Blake grew significantly.

With the album released the question is has Blake lived up to the hype? It certainly safe to say that his album has divided opinion more so than any of his eps. Some find it too short and boring overall whereas others say its by a distance the best album of the year thus far. I would agree with the latter. On first listen I was less than impressed but, this is an album that benefits greatly from repeat listens. Also, I have never come across any other album the benefits so much from listening on headphones. I had been listening to the first single, the Feist cover "Limit to your Love", since the videos release in November without really hearing it. The sub bass that really takes over the track when listened to on headphones or quality speakers is non existent when listened to through laptop speakers. The song takes on a completely different shape, a better shape and overall a more aurally pleasing shape.

The hypnotic "I never learnt to share" reaches a climax with a contrast of a sustained high note and a bass tone that seems to bounce around your skull and cannot help but be admired. There is so much detail put into the album that cannot be picked up on casual listens. You need to spend time with this album and your time will be well rewarded with fantastic production and something that was largely absent from Blake's eps, his very impressive vocals. When he gets into his falsetto range it really can be something special. Something that is exemplified in his breathtaking cover of Joni Mitchell's "A case of you".

It was always going to be difficult if not impossible for James Blake to live up to the enormous amount of hype that surrounded and still surrounds him. In saying that I believe he has made the best album of the year so far by a distance. This is in no way surprising as he supplied me with my favorite song of last year in CMYK, and my favorite of this year in the crescendo packed The Wilhelm Scream. I for one will be very excited to see where he goes from here as all of his releases have been so varied stylistically.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in Twelve Bursts (Burning Heart/Epitaph Records)

Ok, since this is one of my favorite albums ever and the fact that the lovely Epitaph Records gave it a very well deserved reissue I've decided to review it. It could be argued that reviewing it is pointless as I've already stated that I love it. Well, this is not for me. Its for you. I hope that my explaining of how good it is and why YOU need to hear it will give you the impetus to go out and seek it.

This is hardcore punk at its finest and we would be living in a fantastically magical world if this actually turned out to be the shape of punk to come. But alas it has been thirteen years since its release and nothing has come close. Now I know some people have a thin ear for this type of music as I did also. The first time I threw the cd on, about six years ago, I wrote it off as nothing more than noise. Its heavy, but in the best possible way. It was noise but a new type of noise that my ears had to adapt to but eventually did. The more I listened and the more I studied the manifesto contained in the booklet I was well and truly on the Refused train and I have not hopped off yet.

The album opens with "Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull". Which starts off with lead singer, Dennis Lyxzen, screaming the sentence "I've got a bone to pick with capitalism. And a few to break", which lets you know exactly what Refused are all about. They're political, they're angry and they are very very loud! "Liberation Frequency" typifies the albums variety and how songs contrast but at the same time play off each other. Where the opener has Lyxzen screaming his little heart out, "Liberation Frequency" has Lyxzen singing sweetly in falsetto for the verses.

 The album is a mesh of genres and was an obvious attempt by Refused to by pass their usual hardcore punk leanings. The inclusion of samples in the lead single "New Noise", as well as "Bruitist Pome #5 " being built entirely on electronics and samples shows the bands blatant intention towards experimentation. At the the time the band did risk and I am sure ended up, alienating much of their hardcore purist fan base that they had built up from their previous albums and eps. But I certainly did benefit from coming into this album with no prior knowledge of Refused. It was unlike anything I had ever heard and as a 15 year old who was listening to Nirvana and Alice and Chains religiously it completely blew apart my musical taste buds and for that I thank Refused. To quote the bands final Communique, "Refused are Fucking Dead". Long live Refused!