James Blake, My Sonic Addiction

Words: Milly McMahon

James Blake creates arresting works of art; his alluring voice is existentially haunting, and his affecting tones are melancholic. Singing from a place of deep soul, raw life, wild passion and bloody heartbreak, Blake’s luscious compositions wholly envelop me like a deep-set fog; thick-billowing, all consuming. A brittle fragility waivers in his voice, echoed by the stark, minimalistic production techniques, isolating his sentimental lyrics. I have been addicted to Blake’s psychedelic noise-scapes since his debut LP, Overgrown, was released in 2013. His sadness spoke to me, implicitly. Understated and progressive, each of Blake’s songs are carefully arranged to test his listener, encouraging vulnerability. The skilled songwriter somehow fronts the entrancing ability to make me remember everything I have ever tried to forget, buried deep from my conscious. Within his music, pain and desire come into stark focus and here lies devastating elegance.

An incredibly accomplished musician and writer, Blake delivers powerful interludes in his musical scores, manipulating space to communicate loneliness, to illuminate silence and connect his musical rhythms with the internal pulse of an audience. Whenever I feel secure enough to venture into darker caverns of my imagination, l intrepidly click shuffle, play James Blake on my iTunes, unsure what this visit into his world will yield. Of course, I’m not alone in my deep respect for this Mercury prize award winning artist. “I know in the artist community everybody loves Blake,” commented Def Jam co-founder and production OG Rick Rubin, who worked on production for In Colour, Blake’s latest award-winning LP.

Complete with album artwork from Rohl Dahl collaborator and illustrator, Sir Quentin Blake, James Blake is the unlikely hero respected by an eclectic mix of art and music’s most prolific influencers. Kanye West calls him ‘his favourite artist’ and Blue Ivy convinced her mum, ‘Yonce, to abandon her original version of “Forward” to select Blake’s own arrangement of the track for her Lemonade LP (my personal favourite track from the entire release). Nominated for numerous Brit and Grammy nominations, Blake’s worldwide tour dates sell out in a matter of moments. The beauty about this only child from North London’s success is his music’s delicate origination, kindled from an effortlessly natural place of feeling.

Blake famously locked himself in a bedsit-size studio for four years of his twenties, desperately trying to harness the magic of his creative prowess, to substantiate and record material which was representative of his spirit and powerful atmospheres. His life was willingly sacrificed, dedicated to his art. Whilst so many other major label artists seek the level of fame that breaks them free from basic and suffocating living circumstances, striving for luxury and notoriety—with each greater acknowledgement of his talent—Blake is only driven further into himself, in search of perfection. As a listener and fan, this communicates his unequivocal passion, which l appreciate deeply. The obsessive detail of his processes feel tangible on record. James is the ultimate anti-commercial success story of the past decade. Lyrically comparable to Radiohead or Bon Ivor, the gut-wrenching emotion Blake commits to his scores deserve unprecedented attention, realigning listener with self.

Responsible for establishing an experimental yet relatable feel to new music, the layered, reverberated environments of Blake’s music have distinctively crept into the work of Kendrick Lamar, Drake and The Weeknd. Frank Ocean and Blake work closely with one another, progressing their own hybrid genre of post-dubstep-meets-ambient-hip-hop. His influence challenges producers to be more imaginative and diligent with their own techniques. In opposition to the bait, interchangeable Bieber production tribes, Blake’s aesthetic cannot be replicated. Welcomed into the US rap threshold as an honourary guest, after commenting that he creates using hip-hop form, Blake is an entirely unique musical entity. Booked as a headline act at OVO Fest, performing collaboratively with SZA at Coachella, then releasing track “Round Here” featuring Chance The Rapper, rap and R&B’s most prolific players all name the 27-year- old introvert as a positive force in their music’s conception.

The way James looks to black music for inspiration is returned back to him in the work of the aforementioned chart-toppers. Yet, no amount of hype changes his attitude and demeanour; Blake remains low-key and self-assured. Where other white men endorsed by black music have gone on to imitate the artists who celebrate them, 6ft 5 Blake sees the irony in the unlikeliness in the manner of which his contrasting contemporaries idolise him. Blake’s music speaks about anxiety, about men hurting and feeling and loving and dreaming. He, along with so many more emotional rap artists, illuminates the gentler edge of a genre which is too commonly perceived as an aggressive gateway. Rap is about expression and poetry, and Blake hones in on that, using his beats to mirror the lyrical flow of an accomplished rhyme artist. He reflects that passion is fluid, emotion doesn’t acknowledge genre, and originality will always establish itself alongside greatness.

So thank you, James Blake.

Thank you for being unapologetically you.

Posted on October 19, 2017