2) James Blake – James Blake
So here’s what I wrote more than half a year ago:
This is my favorite album of 2011. I realize that is a bit of a brash statement considering we are merely halfway throughout the year, and yet I feel more confident in this decision than many of my others for completed years. Any forthcoming album could never usurp its place, as it would always be attempting to catch up with the emotional connection I am constantly strengthening through this year. Most emotional albums I listen to sacrifice musical uniqueness and experimentation for the feeling. Yet not only is this one of the most emotive albums I’ve ever heard, but one of the most progressive. The voice has never been used as such an instrument before, with many instances of voices providing not lyrics, but detail which would usually be left to a synth. And although he experiments with pitch shifting and the vocoder, an emphatic sense of pain and soul remains shining through these voices, most of which are overdubs of his own. And his voice is gorgeous, often evoking black soul, while still having an audible British accent. Throughout these pieces, multilayered vocals are contrasted against much negative space, creating a tension which fills every song. This tension is often centered on regret and sadness, which form the thematic content of the album. Hints of paranoia are suggested as well, with the dubstep edge of the record conveying the more psychedelic and panicked side of sorrow. Most indicative of his many strengths would have to be the track “I Mind”, in which simply the title is repeated and yet the sorrow is felt as much as more lyrics oriented tracks. The pitch and stereo effects are also very inventive on this track, bringing a disorienting sentiment which adds to this feeling of depression. But technicalities aside, this album just truly struck a chord with me. In my opinion, it is a wholly perfect album, melding both futurism of dubstep and the dark past of soul, to create something truly original and outstanding. Essential.
A lot has changed in half a year. For example, I haven’t the slightest how I could have described the cold sounds of this album as psychedelic. I’d probably also avoid the fire starting term “dubstep”. What hasn’t changed is my passion for this self titled release. This was the first album I really attached to this year. It was something so fresh and new that it inspired me to make this list, to motivate me to see what else is out there that I’ve been ignoring all these years. And for that, I am eternally grateful to this album. It still is a perfect meld of emotion and progressivism. And it still is an instant classic to me. It got me through one of the worst times I’ve had this year and brought me to where I am today. I love it, I really do. My relationship with it is like that between two people; over time I have become less obsessed with this album and I can the flaws it has and still love it for them, not in spite of them. It has shown me a connection with music I’ve never felt before. One thing I feel like I should have mentioned before is “Measurements”. I listened to that song during the earthquake in Japan and I changed the person I was. It was a truly human experience and it made me feel not sympathy but empathy for what was going around me. In fact, that is what the entire album did for me.