The second album I was given to review as part of the Mercury Music Prize theme was Overgrown by James Blake. The first was Holy Fire by Foals that you can read HERE. It features a little background blurb so maybe you should read that before this if you haven’t already.
With Foals I at least knew the name but no such joy with James Blake. I’ve not heard the slightest about him. Unless he used to have a Seven in the 70’s?
The internet tells me he trained classically as a pianist the before moving into Dubstep. He’s subsequently got bored of the Wubwubs and tried his hand at some lo-fi electronic balladeering. I guess that’s sort of a logical move though the thought of having to listen to an album of it fills me with dread.
I’ll be honest, the first time I listened to Overgrown I thought it was boring, monotonous and depressing. The portents of doom I felt before were entirely justified. Nothing particularly stood out and I found myself baffled how this could have been released let alone nominated for album of the year.
After two or three listens however, it started to sink in a little, the songs made more sense and I started to enjoy it. I say enjoy, it’s hard to enjoy something as mopey and as miserable as sin as this is, it smacks of a depressed teenager who deals with his loneliness by writing songs on his computer about how girls won’t go out with him and that nobody understands his pain, but I definitely learnt to appreciate it if nothing else.
Musically, there are actually two sides to Overgrown: The sparse, minimalistic ballads that are, due to James’s droning falsetto, heavily reminiscent of Antony & The Johnsons. But then every now and then the pace picks up a little, a little, and some drum n’ bass style beats appear and the songs start to veer into some nice, trippy atmospherics.
It harkens me back to a time when I might have been stumbling home from a club, barely holding onto the pizza in a box I wish I’d never bought because, even though I was starving and a 17” pizza seemed like a great idea at the time, I ate two slices, got full and had to lug the bloody thing home with me. I’d finally get back around 3am and flop down in front of the TV, too tired to really watch anything that involves thought. I’d put on MTV in the hope it was Alternative Nation or Headbanger’s Ball but at that time of night it was always these weird dance mixes; Untitled trance and drum n’ bass songs accompanied by bizarre, psychedelic and kaleidoscopic video that were precisely the wrong thing to be watching when you’re trying to fight roomspin.
So yeah, sometimes, when Overgrown isn’t sounding like Antony & The Johnsons it sounds like the music that was on MTV specifically for folk who like hallucinogens in the early hours.
5 out of 10 It could have been a bit better