Lush – This is a word I wouldn’t use to describe James Blake’s 2011 debut album. The arrangements on Overgrown are more confident and interesting and it’s nice to see Blake approaching his songwriting to incorporate more textures and less “drops”. The best songs from his debut were powerful in their simplicity, but on Overgrown the best songs are the busiest. The complexity on tracks such as “DLM” and “Life Around Here” are big steps forward for Blake’s songwriting. Sometimes there’s too much going on (“Digital Lion” and “Voyeur”) and the core of the song gets lost by trying to add too much.
Soulful – One thing Blake fans will notice immediately on Overgrown is that Blake’s strength as a singer has grown. Where as Blake’s debut album sounded like he was trying to hide his voice behind the music, most of Overgrown put his vocals as the focus as the song. “DLM” has some of Blake’s finest singing yet and it’s a prime example of how electronic music can sound soulful. Overgrown proves that Blake is a talented singer who plays electronic music instead of being an electronic artist with some soul knowledge.
Meh – Overgrown is not a bad album, but it leaves me much desired. It is more assured than his debut, but it lacks the rawness that made his debut so great. Also RZA feels very out of place on “Take A Fall For Me” and Brian Eno on “Digital Lion” doesn’t really add anything special.
Keep this in mind: Dubstep is no longer as fascinating as it once was in 2011, which back in the day helped Blake become the one dubstep artist dubstep haters could like. A lot of the reason why Blake’s debut album was so successful was because of all the hype, but now James Blake is just another successful artist still releasing music.
This is the kind of album that needs to grow with time, and already with each re-listen I’m picking up on bits of the album I now enjoy. Who knows, maybe I’ll love this album by the end of the year.
Overall: Though his best songs are on Overgrown, there’s nothing about James Blake in 2013 that stands out more than James Blake in 2011. Fans will enjoy it, but newcomers might leave the album wondering what the hype was all about two years ago. Like the Matrix movies, the sequel is actually not bad, but Overgrown plays the same tricks as the original and it leaves the audience wanting more.
Essential Tracks: “Life Round Here”, “Retrograde”, “DLM”
Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber