James Blake, Active Child | Lincoln Hall | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

James Blake, Active Child 18+ Early Warnings (Music) Recommended Sold Out (Music)

When: Sun., May 15, 8 p.m. 2011

I'm unfamiliar with the finer points of dubstep, but it was still pretty easy for me to learn that most purists in the genre see James Blake as a charlatan. His transgression? After a couple of insular-sounding, relatively stylistically orthodox EPs, he pushed toward pop on his self-titled debut album for Universal Republic. The LP was the first music of Blake's I heard, though, and judged on its own terms (rather than on dubstep terms) it's pretty great. It grabbed me on first listen and has grown more resonant with repeated spins, reminding me of the homemade late-90s electronic soul of fellow Brit Lewis Taylor. Blake isn't a particularly strong singer, and calling his lyrics slight is probably too kind, but he works around his limitations brilliantly—he uses multitracked vocals, some of them nonverbal, to harmonize with himself, creating rich layers of multicolored sound. The album prompted me to dig up his earlier recordings, where he made a herky-jerky mix of chopped or electronically tweaked samples of his voice and fractured, stuttering electronic beats. He's retained that production style as he's moved into actual songs, often going so far as to rework chunks of his straighter dubstep material. Though his tunes are still extremely simple, often consisting of little more than a single line repeated ad infinitum (this guy doesn't worry about bridges), they're definitely tunes in a way his old tracks aren't. Blake's vocal melodies and programming—beats, synths, even some actual piano chords—greatly enhance each other, turning his rhythms into hooks and his singing into a vivid, intricate abstraction. I don't know if he can pull this stuff off live, and it's possible that the album's connection to the rapidly evolving aesthetic of dubstep will make it sound hopelessly dated in a year, but for now I'm a believer. 18+

Price: Sold out

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