Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Track Review: James Blake - "Retrograde"

James Blake - "Retrograde"
Release Date: February 11, 2013
James Blake’s 2011 self-titled debut full-length was heralded for its successful attempt to bring the singer-songwriter genre into the realm of bass and electronic music. Blake’s manipulation of his voice into things strange and unfamiliar to what is usually a straightforward format was exhilarating, even as the music and manipulations were melancholic and stripped.

Blake’s first single from his upcoming full length, Overgrown, is titled “Retrograde,” and in it he largely dispenses of the stranger vocal tricks pulled on tracks like “Lindisfarne”. Despite this abandonment of one of his hallmarks, the great vocal melodies he has knack for remain as he croons in a way that feels like his next move is to bring soul into the arena of bass music. Handclaps that form the spine of the song are the largest drawback, a poorly produced cliché from someone usually so dismissive of tropes in songwriting. Looming, ominous synth in the latter portions of the song overshadow the claps though, evoking the images we see in the single’s art – Blake alone in a frozen landscape, but immediately behind him is a cold, stone wall cutting him off from those around him.

What might be considered a love song has the emotions contained within marred by Blake’s seeming contempt for his subject “I’ll wait – so show me why you’re strong/ignore everybody else/we’re alone now.” Whether this was a single attempt to put his own songwriting on display after having one of the strongest tracks on James Blake be a cover, or if it’s indicative of the style to expect from the album, it leaves one thirsting for more, even as you’re reeling from the impact of Blake’s front and center, newly-low vocals. The two titles we have so far - Overgrown and "Retrograde" - leave little to the imagination: "Retrograde" represents a retreat into the old world of soul, at least for this song, while the album title would seem to indicate that the synthline on the song isn't an anamoly, but indicative of a larger, overbearing sound not present on the minimalist James Blake.

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