Two years prior to the release of Overgrown, James Blake dropped his self-titled debut; a refreshing collection of skittish beats, delicate vocals and pretty melodies. But with certain spots sounding like unfinished sketches, the record was ultimately unsure of what it truly wanted to be. Overgrown is a far less disjointed affair, retaining the melancholic mood that was set in 2011 and applying it with more focus.
Although the album is a mature step for Blake, it’s not an ambitious one, and some may favour the sporadic nature of the debut. My preference remains in the balance, though I do find the sparse atmosphere of Overgrown to be endearing, floating continuously with a quiet confidence. The graceful air of “I Am Sold” is almost too easy to get lost in, with Blake’s ghostly vocal samples overshadowing any genuine hooks that may interfere. It’s beautifully discreet, formed with an elegance that pushes it to the point of invisibility — blissful for some, but perhaps too despondent for others. Tracks often linger in a cold ambiance, and if you’re not into what Blake is doing here, the passive nature of the songwriting will likely turn you away.
Overgrown is, through it’s sheer somber nature, a hypnotising experience, and during its finer moments will have you held in a spell that you’re unable to escape from, and perhaps even unwilling to.
8 out of 10
Although Overgrown prompted a healthy discussion between us about the makeup of ambient — and to a slightly lesser extent electronic — music, I personally have little to say about the album itself. It’s meticulously made and utterly unaffecting.
In my mind the amorphous nature of ambient music forgives lapses in quality more readily, as they are simply absorbed into the ether of sound, and Overgrown is no different. It showcases James Blake far more as a producer than as a songwriter. Tracks occasionally flicker with echoes of the sublime, but for the most part they settle for the matte glow of production value alone. It leaves me cold. I’m clearly a minority in this regard, but I can’t help how I feel — or don’t, in this case.
6 out of 10
Having been championed by the likes of Mary Anne Hobbs and Giles Peterson, and winning fans with his eponymous debut release, James Blake’s follow up album, Overgrown, had a lot of anticipation surrounding it. The two years between albums shows in the production of the whole album. Instrumentation and electronic effects all meld together to make a polished, technically excellent album. With a stormy, moody, ethereal opening, Blake brings a lot of what previous listeners loved and adds to it, with drone-like organs, pads and sub bass creating atmosphere, which opens up to slow, rolling beats.
Spikey lead synths interject the mood in “Life Round Here”, leaning more on R&B influences than in the self-titled album, and familiar piano chords line “Retrograde” and “DLM” beautifully. At this later stage, I begin to drift, with “Digital Lion” and “Voyeur” experimenting and focussing on drum patterns, though only just enough to not feel repetitive. “To The Last” has enough behind it to pull a listener back in. Returning to his earlier material, with hints of glitch influences and dubbed harmony lines, this track would’ve made for a great closer. With all that said, I was among those anticipating a lot from this album and I still hold it in high regard, but with the higher production values, it feels as though some of the rawness has disappeared.
8 out of 10