Monday, January 10th, 2011

James Blake – Limit to Your Love

And where better to continue than with the grand runner-up…


Kat Stevens: It’s amazing how quiet and sparse this is for a song that is getting regular radio play on Radio 1. There’s a huge silence right in the middle, for chrissakes! With a lonely piano and a vocal with lovely dubby echoes on it and not much else! James Blake is most definitely not in any sort of Club asking the DJ for one more track, neither is he bashing out a super-saturated Tedderballad slicing through our sinuses. I’d almost forgotten that we were allowed to listen to slow, mournful pop songs. It feels like there hasn’t been anything like this on the radio since… Phil Collins?

Katherine St Asaph: Forget dubstep; this is a high school glee club audition. You know, the kind where you walk into the choir room and sing a pop song, except James decided he’d go with a Feist album track to be hip. He wheedles and closed-eye emotes his way through, reaaaaally slowly, as the bewildered accompanist plods alongside him, throwing in some harder chords to amuse himself. After too much of this, a class-clown bass decides not to cut him off but to beatbox and sway along. Everyone glares except James, who seizes the opportunity to emote even more. The cycle happens two more times, per comedy law. Eventually James finishes and leaves, prompting the entire audition committee to let gush their pent-up laughter. Except that part isn’t in the song. It should be.

Jonathan Bogart: Arthur Russell’s a really hip influence to have, but don’t you need to do more with him than add some really thundering bass (at least it is in my car’s shitty stereo system)?

Alex Macpherson: Of the multitudes of astoundingly talented producers in the UK making inventive, sui generis music in the terrain between house, garage, dubstep and more, it’s utterly baffling to me that the one picked out by the mainstream media – i.e. people who neither knew nor cared about this scene before a few months ago — is someone who peddles such awkward, rudimentary arrangements and dribbles soul-grating, nail-scraping, timorous vocals over them. Anyway: a few months ago my line was that James Blake was as overrated as his tennis namesake. Having now heard his utterly dreadful debut album in full, that’s been downgraded to even more so.

Tom Ewing: On the album this sounds very tight next to Blake’s own, ultra-diffuse, compositions. His tinkering, stripping and hollowing out of song makes a lot more sense when there’s a song there to begin with. I’m interested in the fight between arrangement and song — particularly the way the bass seems estranged from everything else — but I don’t feel anything listening to this. The loneliness and mystery in his records when he wasn’t singing has vanished. As an academic exercise, this is fine.

Jer Fairall: The spacious dubstep clicks, undoubtedly the thing behind all of the drooling that’s going on over this guy, actually remind me pleasantly of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack, more so than any of the genre’s usual murky instrumental crawls, but Blake’s performance is so wan and bloodless that there’s absolutely zero tension between his vocals and the moody setting. Makes the Feist original sound positively busy by comparison.

John Seroff: Where Feist’s original version was (like much of the music off The Reminder) a gentle AM rock tweak, Blake’s take on “Limit to Your Love” is darker, dubby and more threat than lament. The tremulous bass under lonely keys evokes a minimal Massive Attack and Blake’s pretty, yearning voice is reminiscent of Bryan Ferry. Slight, but surprisingly satisfying.

Iain Mew: This completely stopped me in my tracks first time I heard it, in a very similar manner to the Samuel & the Dragon song I submitted for Amnesty week. His voice does a job but it’s all about everything else around — awesome use of silence to add suspense and tension, menacingly throbbing bass, pretty little piano figures poking through, spaced out so they come as a new surprise each time. Having since heard the original for the first time, it’s almost more impressive that he managed to take a small part of the song and make it sound so complete and compelling on its own.

David Katz: There are cover versions that are curios, accoutrements, or goof-offs, another jaunty tune or standard in your arsenal. But James Blake has bigger ideas here: “Limit to Your Love” is an underground music Hallelujah or Hurt, a cover that treats its forebear as a blueprint yet to be fully realised. Feist’s original is jaunty, warm, comforting. Blake’s is a spare beast wracked with tension, even pain — some kind of devotional cleansing, a confessional of sorts wrought in music.

Doug Robertson: The public at large didn’t exactly take to Anthony and the Johnsons first time around, so quite why they’re going to suddenly show enthusiasm for a duller, less interesting version with all the connectivity of a rubber plug is unclear.

Alfred Soto: Scratched-up dolor, embodied by That Indie Voice, an archetype that was tired in 2010, 1998, and 1984.

Martin Skidmore: This is interesting — old-fashioned soul singing over heavy piano, with odd pulsing and clicking sounds sometimes behind it. I had thought he was a dubstep producer, but those elements are at best minimal. I like the piano, but this stands or falls on the vocal, which is actually pretty good, carrying some real feelings of sadness, and the double-tracking in parts is impressive.

Mallory O’Donnell: It’s ironic that one of the only songs amongst this lot that sounds even remotely new or forward-thinking is a cover. But it’s a subtle irony. Subtle, too, is the newness of it: it’s not so much any of the elements that strike one as being original or fresh-sounding, but simply how Blake combines them with a minimal, naive sensibilitivity, so events both acoustic and electronic sound like stages of an emotion naturally shifting over time rather than crossfade points in a ProTools sequence.

Jonathan Bradley: James Blake discovers some gravity lacking in Feist’s ornamental original version. The best parts of his take are the chilly plateaus stretching between the ponderous piano and trip-hop-reminiscent beats. In fact, it’s the ghost of ’90s trip-hop that both makes and breaks this tune; is “Limit to Your Love” smoky and mysterious or characterless fodder for the next generation of chill out compilations? The vocals are sung richly enough to cautiously suggest the former, but there’s an aimlessness here as well, one that risks calling to mind stock photos of beaches or magazines dedicated to interior design.

6 Responses to “James Blake – Limit to Your Love”

  1. re. Rusell as influence – I SO WISH more people would rip off Arthur Russell’s disco productions, not his more experimental solo records, but it’s Another Thought which seems to get all the action nowadays.

  2. & I get more of a Paul Young vibe from this rather than a Collins one – vaguely futuristic stripped-pine minimalism w/soulesque vocals.

    I now feel a bit cheated that the first JB song I heard – and loved – was “Klavierwerke”, since he seems insistent on never recording anything like it again, at least not without plonking himself on top.

  3. Katherine killing it in today’s reviews.

  4. I SO WISH more people would rip off Arthur Russell’s disco productions

    See also: Coati Mundi

  5. If he could sing, write songs or arrange anywhere near as well as Arthur Russell it would be a good start.

    The rest of the ‘UK bass scene’ is a bit of an irrelevence here, it’s obvious to me he’s gaining mainstream traction by leaving that stuff behind. It’s nowhere near as good as the Feist original fwiw, which is a great torch song.

    But the album is such a weird record to get such mad buzz in the first place, I can only assume most people repping it in the BBC poll hadn’t even heard it at the time.

  6. The Arthur Russell comparisons are really off the mark, methinks. And I’ve definitely absorbed enough Russell – this guy’s way more standard post-hiphop classical than Russell’s Zen Cage school and he’s way more of a bedroom producer.