Put yourself back a year. Avatar wowed us all with its huge budget and ability to create controversy over nothing, Michael Jackson's doctor is charged with whatever they can find to charge him with, and James Blake is waiting for his big moment when 'The Bells Sketch' can drop in March on Hessle Audio. In the proceeding year he released 'CMYK' and 'Klavierwerke' on R&S, as well as 'Limit To Your Love' coming out on Atlas last November, which have combined to make this album one of the most anticipated of the year.

The trouble with Blake is where to put him. Although he's classically trained (he completed his piano grades aged 15), nothing he does hints at a true classical style. His chord changes and progressions are closer to jazz in most cases, and are certainly nowhere near the harsh changes associated with dubstep. Blake always associates himself with dubstep, but he's nowhere near. Bells Sketch could be considered the crisper, more acoustic side of dubstep, and it contains a few hallmarks, but after that it's a different genre that's inspired by dubstep. I'm not going to use the tired phrase post-dubstep for two reasons: it's lazy and it's wrong. If it was post-dubstep it would be closely related, rather than just holding it as a single influence. Tracks like 'CMYK' and 'Postpone' held jazz, dubstep and minimalism all in equal measure, which was what made them so great. Equally, I'm not going to say that he's genreless or we shouldn't band him, but what he is is not dubstep.

And we can take what he's applied, his influences and sounds developed mainly in the 12s to create a picture of the music in the album. There's still the jazzy approach found in 'I'll Stay' and 'Give A Man A Rod', but there's more of the piano on top of the chopped piano sounds of I Only Know and Postpone with the added element of the rimshot sounds and almost random percussion found on CMYK and Sparing The Horse (and even his remix of Maybes by Mount Kimbie) which all combine to make part of the album. There are still the vocals to come on top, but the basis is with him taking all of these elements and washing them clean, getting rid of anything that could ever be called superfluous to create a stark atmosphere that's difficult and strong but fragile at the same time.

Looking further on at his Feist/Gonzales cover 'Limit To Your Love' we finally get to hear Blake's voice without it getting chopped up, distorted and abused, and it's good. There's tranquillity to his voice that's gentle and fragile, and an accent to it that's unmistakably London. It creates a calling card for him and sets him firmly within the forefront of urban music, with its jazzy undertones and its phenomenal sub bass that takes the breath away, it's a fresh breath into a genre that's now starting to repeat itself. By embracing the world of jazz and stretching influences as far as they can go, Blake can create a new niche for himself by adopting the best parts of both. This isn't him making a novelty song, it's him pushing London's electronic scene forward in the same way that Rinse FM artists have been doing for the last however many years. Rinse spun a copy of Blake's Air & Lack Thereof back in 2009, which is often the first sign of something great to come.

I think the main thing a lot of people are struggling with on this album is where they expected it to be continuing on the same Rinse vein. This is no longer something Rinse would play, it's evolved into something of its own, something Blake has created and made his own in the last few years. Not all the tracks here are entirely original to the album, 'I Never Learnt To Share' and 'Limit To Your Love' were first heard on Electronic Explorations' podcast, before 'Air & Lack Thereof' came out, albeit in very different forms (Limit... has a breakdown and added bass structure, for example). If you can get past the fact that, while this isn't pop, it's not dubstep or anywhere near anymore, then you can embrace this. If you can take it at face value and not think about this as being the same person who penned 'CMYK' and 'Klavierwerke', you can appreciate this as one fine album. But if you insist that once in a genre you never move, then you don't deserve to hear this.

Blake's vocals, which I think are what put a lot of people off, are always at the forefront of this album. Even in tracks such as 'I Mind', which only uses the one sampled vocal and chops it up à la early Blake, the vocals are always the focusing point and imperative to understanding this whole album. By drenching it in a heavy amount of autotune and effects (with the exception of 'Limit To Your Love'), he begins to treat his voice as an instrument. Take 'Lindisfarne I' for example, where the vocals are almost all that exist, he echoes himself and draws all attention into his voice by refusing to place anything else with it. But this doesn't feel like a capella, it feels more like a minimalist piece, and by having layered vocoder and autotune he creates an effect whereby he each part is providing the instrumental layer for the next. This level of production and beauty makes it beautiful and haunting, and means that he can get away with leaving it minutes before introducing another instrument, but it's not an endurance test. The listener doesn't feel as though the song needs the instruments to develop, it's not art that you have to endure, it's not something that even requires bundles of intelligence and sobriety to appreciate it, it's purely an impressive way to make an impressive sound.

It's not just 'Lindisfarne' that uses the vocals as an instrument, even songs like 'The Wilhelm Scream', with its repeated motifs, use the repeated lead line which changes effects and sinks and raises in the mix the same way as any other lead line would be used. It hence comes across as purely coincidence that the line means something, that the pattern of notes actually has an easy to understand message. It's the same in 'I Never Learned To Share' and across most of the entire album, even when the vocals aren't repeated, they still form part of the song which is halfway between the vocals of a traditional song and the leading pattern.

This still couldn't, by and large, be considered as a minimalist album, and still contains the hallmarks of his earlier works in abundance. Take, for example, 'I Never Learnt To Share', a track that still builds up with all the abundance of atmospherics that 'Bells Sketch' carries and drops just as well, but with more of a nous towards his craft as a song writer, and in lieu of breaking off to a recorded conversation, it keeps on flooding with layers before it breaks, crashing, leaving the lasting impression of melancholy and regret before running into the perpetually uplifting Lindisfarne.

The only track which doesn't seem to fit on here is 'Limit To Your Love' (and You Know Your Youth on the LP version, Tep And Logic fits perfect though) ironically because of its simplicity. Even on tracks such as 'Why Don't You Call Me', which lasts only a minute and a half and is predominantly just Blake with a piano, there is a certain level of difficulty and awkwardness that's borderline throwaway and underdeveloped, but holds something of a beauty because of it. Its casual complexity and perfect timing in every cut off point of the piano and every extra element makes it a well rehearsed and planned piece, but the casual and sloppy chords and style of it makes it seem like you're looking into Blake's mind, a perfect mix of his dual natures and talents. But that's lost on 'Limit To Your Love' which is what it is, and that is planned minimalism. It's closer to The xx in the way that it relies on heavy simplicity over pure minimalism; simplicity in terms of complexity of individual lines, not simplicity of composition, as both Blake and The xx compose at the highest of standards. And that's lost in the rest of the album which takes every minute detail and plans it out, every sound individual and exact, which isn't in 'Limit To Your Love'. It would be wrong to edit Limit, but equally it doesn't fit in the harmony of the album.

It's the heady mix of complexity and minimalism that makes this album. To take 'Measurements' as a microcosm, we can see everything. It has Blake's ability of immediate impact, and his ability to make his hand wandering around the bass casually sound better than most people could ever master, as well as his ability to make his voice play with itself to create a chorus of autotuned gospel singers sound as amazing as that sounds. The casual play of his voice with, what you realise, is just a bass synth and a few keys, is outstanding; the song is one of the most complete and uplifting songs that I've ever heard, and its ability to create beauty out of almost nothing is stunning. Nothing is out of place or too much, nothing is extra or too far, quite simply, it's a perfect song.

To put it simply, this album is an incredible exploration into what electronic music can be when it is fully composed by someone who understands music as a whole. That doesn't make it better than every other piece of electronic music, but it's a study into how electronic music can advance, what it can be built into and how it can be made into something that fits in with the classics. This is a masterpiece in the evolution of the electronic genre.

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