x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

James Blake

After a string of acclaimed singles and EPs, James Blake's debut album might come as a bit of a surprise.

Atlas/A&M
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After a string of highly acclaimed EPs and singles that helped bring the UK's favourite party music - dubstep - into a new decade, the debut album by Londoner James Blake might come as a bit of a surprise.

The 23-year-old has largely ditched the buzzing bass and flat-out samples of previous releases and made an album of downbeat soul using little other than piano and his own bittersweet voice. Closer to Antony and the Johnsons than anything that's ever been played at a warehouse party, could one of the year's most hotly anticipated debuts merely be dubstep for dinner parties? Definitely not.

While the set-up may be simple, the record is a difficult listen. The first single, a reworking of the Feist tune Limit to Your Love, matches shuddering bass and beats with sorrowful chords. Sitting at the album's midway point, the track shows Blake's restrained, icy sound at its very best. The opener, Unluck, demonstrates the record's glitchier side - so much so it's likely some unsuspecting listeners won't make it beyond the fuzzed-out track. If they do, however, Wilhelm's Scream offers a real treat, building from drowzy R&B into a giant echoing monolith of sound.

That Blake's debut abandons the furious energy of his recordings just one year ago will disappoint some, but the record's abundance of moodiness and fresh sounds goes more than a little way towards making up for it.