James Blake has cultivated a sound that is more prevalent in the realms of audio than ever before. Minimalist electronic blurts and jarring dissonant tones characterise his work, but within these jolts there is somehow also consistent melody and beauty. It takes a special artist to create something that can feel both broken and perfectly formed simultaneously. This paradox of sound makes his work seem almost fragile, or at the least, it makes the listener feel fragile due to their expectations being undermined so frequently. There is a darkness within his music but in many ways the isolating chambers of sound that he creates seem to cultivate a blissfully grey utopia.
The music that James Blake makes has a unique quality to it, and his sound is almost instantly recognisable. While comparisons and connections have been drawn to artists such as Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, James Blake’s sound distinguishes itself in a number of ways. Since his first release people have fallen in love with the various vocal manipulations and jittering rhythms that accompany swelling synths in the music he creates. There are such a great number of levels to James Blake’s sound that it can be easy to get lost attempting to focus in upon just one of them. There are countless moments that appear to be predictable within his composition and then abruptly take a complete turn and catch you off guard no matter how many times you’ve been there before.
Many traits of Blake’s sound connect closely to a range of other genres, however one that stands out is the down tempo relationship his tracks have with hip-hop. There are clear literal examples of this union in the form of RZA’s feature on ‘Take A Fall For Me’ and Chance The Rapper’s appearance on ‘Life Round Here’ but even away from direct examples James Blake creates tracks that come across as at least being cousins to the genre. Whether it is the rhythms he utilises or the production techniques he implements, people within the hip-hop community seem to have found a kindred spirit in James Blake. Equally, his use of culturally acceptable vocal manipulation has certainly helped to support the countless rap artists who rely upon it for their art.
What is most remarkable about the body of work James Blake has cultivated is that there is a consistent intimate quality about all of it. Each of his albums has a sense of introspection, but this draws you into his world in an almost effortless way. It borders upon impossible not to feel like you have delved into the depths of Blake’s mind and witnessed something that extends beyond the boundaries that people would commonly share with one another. The way these tracks are crafted make them sound like direct expressions of human consciousness with cries of loss and doubt never far from prominence.
The human connection that James Blake has embedded throughout his work, albeit a broadly unhappy one, enables listeners to gain a sense of company through loneliness. Through melancholic sounds and echoing beats there is a faint cry that every person who embraces Blake’s work can hear; you are not alone and other people feel the sadness you feel as well. To express this profound sentiment in audio is not only impressive, it is a gift. This gift is bestowed upon very few people, but through James Blake we should all rest assured that the complexity of the human psyche is being documented. Without any need for an explanation of our consistent confusion as a species, these songs project a dismal paradise where everyone is alone, but simultaneously connected through isolation.