James Blake “released” Radio Silence‘s title track today, by which I mean Consequence of Sound posted an article that hyperlinked to DIY magazine’s article from yesterday which featured an embedded live performance video from last weekend.
But, while its full potential is hard to gauge until hearing the recorded version, Blake’s songwriting style–for the albums at least–leans once again toward the throaty-crooning-over-jerky-keyboards formula he perfected on “Retrograde” and failed to recapture the magic with on “40455”, among other tracks put out since.
Now that the 1-800-Dinosaur collective/label is its own separate beast, I’m hoping this doesn’t signal a departure from songs that push the boundaries between danceable dub and spare-but-loaded singer-songwriter lyricism (“Life Round Here” was arguably the only successful synthesis of the two on Overgrown. “Voyeur” fared somewhat better as its own, officially “dubbed” A-side but still sounded like Kermit the Frog looped over a Gaspar Noé nightclub sequence.)
As I told a concert buddy after seeing Blake and his exceptional live band (consisting of labelmates Airhead and Mr. Assister) play 9:30* following Overgrown‘s release, his go-to themes of relationship dissociation and communication breakdown feel less authentic as he becomes more comfortable showcasing his vocal abilities.
His idol Joni Mitchell’s naked singing voice conveyed a fearlessness that betrayed the lyrical vulnerability for the purpose of performance but always sounded in-character. Blake’s voice, while appropriately strained in his ballads, never sounds more in-character than when fed through a jittery vocoder that often cuts him off before a full note allows any semblance of emotion to register. What better way for listeners to fall into the role of Blake’s alienated lover than to have his delivery sound as if it’s fighting through signal static to reach them?
*Filmed here for your viewing pleasure.