SXSW Preview: James Blake (Playing on Prefix)

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(Our regular blog readers will know that KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez already wrote a post on this artist earlier this year, but it never hurts to have a second perspective. Especially on an artist with so much buzz! )

Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week

James blake albumListening to James Blake is like listening to the past and the future at the same time. The UK producer/singer mixes recent trends in vocal manipulation (like pitch correcting, lowering and warping) post dub-step and R&B deconstructions with stodgy art rock pretenses like stark minimalism and vintage electronic production.

Blake has been compared to Phil Collins (because he sings about love, I guess), How to Dress Well (who he bests in every regard), Antony and the Johnsons (his voice can be sorta similar) and Brian Eno (for the minimalism), but none of them really completely describe the sound the guy has whipped up over the course of three 2010 EPs (The Bells Sketch, Klavierwerke and CMYK), and now his self-titled debut.

The easiest description is to just play his hauntingly beautiful cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.”

Beyond Blake’s multi-layered and affecting vocals, the real beauty is how he completely deconstructs the original’s piano line into bass rumbles and an occasionally pounded keys. Blake lives in a world where TV on the Radio’s “Ambulance” is over-blown and too busy.

His defining minimalist achievement is “Measurements,” the closing track on James Blake, that features four part harmonies consisting of solely Blake’s quavering voice and no instrumental accompaniment other than a plucked bass.

James Blake album sampler:

Blake has already caught waves of hype in the mags in his native England– and stateside on the blogs–but this year he probably breaks out.

He signed to Universal for a U.S. release of James Blake (out now digitally, and out later this year physically) and he’s going to be all over SXSW in March.

But you can expect Blake and his unique music to be Playing on Prefix longer than the hype cycle: One of our writers is already calling it the album of the year. At this point, that’s a hard one to argue.

— by Andrew Winistorfer