James Blake, "Overgrown" (Universal Republic)
If you weren't convinced of his talent by James Blake's debut album, his sophomore release, "Overgrown," will do the trick.
The London-born singer-songwriter-producer returns with an album that shines a light on his 2011 self-titled dubstep debut, which earned him a Mercury Prize nomination. "Overgrown" is a collection of songs that will break ground in electro soul, and Blake does so impressively in a 40-minute run.
The lead single, the soulful "Retrograde," is as much fragile as it is powerful. It's the ultimate chill-out tune filled with a feeling that does exactly what the song says: "Ignore everybody else, we're alone now," he sings with a hint of refined auto-tune.
The new material reflects and focuses on Blake's growth in confidence and songwriting, and his approach is audacious. He spent time with rapper Kanye West and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon last year, and it seems their musical prowess has rubbed off on the 24-year-old singer. "Overgrown" has a new direction as Blake shifts from creating songs with various sounds to songs with storytelling and depth.
Wu Tang Clan's RZA is featured on the hip-hop-flavored "Take a Fall for Me," and Brian Eno donates his talents on the rhythmic "Digital Lion." But neither guest takes away from the emotion of Blake's vocals.
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