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Albums of 2013 – 12. James Blake – ‘Overgrown’

When I interviewed James Blake last month, he offered some glowing praise for Warpaint’s upcoming album: “It’s the first thing I’ve heard in a while that’s made me sonically and poetically jealous. It has headspace, but it also has snap.” Taken out of context, the latter comment is a curiously apt descriptor for this, Blake’s own Mercury-award winning sophomore album.

Whereas 2011’s self-titled effort often felt as if the singer-songwriter’s talent was trapped in an airlock, Overgrown is its more organic counterpart, unafraid to fill the gaps while still retaining Blake’s signature sense of subtlety. ‘Voyeur’ finds his dance roots uncurbed as the track’s driving Burial-esque beat is granted full life. Meanwhile, ‘Retrograde’ marks a flirtation with traditional verse-chorus structure and ‘Take A Fall For Me’ adds a surprising guest feature from RZA to the fold.

Co-produced by Brian Eno, the ambient pioneer is a perfect partner for the project, injecting Overgrown‘s most pared-down moments with warm sentiment. Closing track ‘Our Love Comes Back’ is particularly successful for it, taking the skeletal approach of his earlier work without sacrificing emotional impact. Equally attributable to Overgrown‘s heart is Blake’s recent romance with Warpaint’s Theresa Wayman, reflected in the album’s more vulnerable lyrical current.

Very much an outsider in this year’s Mercury Awards, with Overgrown Blake reminds us that the most endearing records aren’t always the ones that shout the loudest but the ones that simply do what feels natural. It may be far from perfect, but in curbing his earlier, more orderly tendencies, Blake has tapped into a newer, richer creative pool.

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