The highly-acclaimed James Blake released his debut album last week, and I'm not sure how many people noticed. It was released simultaneously in the UK and the USA, and while the UK has some inkling, perhaps, of what he's doing, I'm not sure that the Americans have any clue. 

Blake bases most of his music on dubstep, but he has added what should be the commercial catch of soulful vocals. Much of the time, it works, but at other times . . . well. 

The highlights of the record include the gorgeous "The Wilhelm Scream", with it's slowly building wall-of-noise over a reverbed-just-right vocal which actually consists of only a few words. This is the sort of thing that Blake does best, starting with a sketch of an idea and adding on a full, affecting, and unique mix. 

Another highlight - and there's a similarity to the above track, is "Limit To Your Love", a cover of a Feist song. It starts again with a some simple piano chords and a beautiful vocal, and then - bang! the dubstep kicks in and takes the tune to another level. 

The problem with Blake, though, is that he frequently has that above-mentioned sketch of an idea and then just stays there. Or he occasionally takes an idea in an odd direction that borders on pretension. 

Witness the opening track, "Unluck". Again, we've got piano notes, a skeletal drumbeat, and a noise that sounds like someone blowing into a microphone. Skittery beats enter and never really go anywhere, until finally we get anthemic synth notes. It all ends up sounded disjointed and unfinished, and I think that's what Blake is going for. Unfortunately, it's not terribly listenable. It's one of those oddities that's really only listening to once; I can't imagine many people would want to hear it again. 

The album has several songs that follow the same template. "I Mind" takes the same skitter of drums, and adds in various filtered vocals that don't really seem to ever fall together. "I Never Learnt To Share" bases itself on the lines "My brother and my sister/Don't speak to me/But I don't blame them/But I don't blame them". The song finally resolves into a ghostly dubstep march, but ends up being unsatisfying. 

There are a couple of short tunes that are definitely "unfinished" sketches as well, simply piano and voice. "Give Me My Month" is one of those, and it sounds like it was recorded on the first take. That said, it's kind of pretty. "Why Don't You Call Me" is the other, but it kicks into spectral discord soon enough. 

Blake likes to treat voices, and has put together a song or so based just on that premise. "Lindisfarne I" is all vocoder, as if an android has taken the mic. This isn't so bad, either, but again the whole thing just kind of  . . . lies there. 

I can understand why Blake has received his acclaim. What he's doing is like no one else, but it also has to be said that what he's doing frequently doesn't have a ton of appeal. I can listen to the album and appreciate it as a unique work, but even mass music consumers like me may not stick with it too long. 

I give James Blake a 6.5 on the England Swings scale of 1-10. 

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