James Blake recently announced details of his second album 'Overgrown' by showcasing new single 'Retrograde' nearly two weeks ago. The track received an incredible response across the board with R1 (Zane Lowe) & R2 (Jo Whiley) Record of the Week slots secured and over 850k plays online so far.
Musically broad and emotionally deep, Overgrown is big as an advance on James's eponymous 2011 debut as that album was on the mercurial dubstep of his early EPs, and it reflects how much the 24-year-old Londoner's life has changed in the past two years. His debut sold over 400,000 copies - quite something for a record so uncompromisingly introspective and experimental. It also picked up Mercury, Brit and Ivor Novello nominations, sent him around the world on tour, and brought him into contact with a wide array of fans and collaborators that includes not only Joni Mitchell but Jay-Z, Kanye West, Bon Iver, Björk, Drake, Brian Eno and the RZA.
For most of Overgrown James is still a one-man show but his manager suggested he work with other people, including Brian Eno on the percussive soul mantra Digital Lion. When James arrived at Eno's house, the veteran artist and producer played them his favourite gospel record, Peace Be Still by Reverend James Cleveland and the Angelic Choir. "It just happened to be my favourite song too. We obviously had something in common."
James was immersed in the first Wu-Tang Clan album when he wrote Take a Fall For Me in New York, so he asked the RZA to appear on it and the legendary MC/producer responded with a playfully anglophile verse which makes reference to "fish and chips with vinegar, with a cold glass of stout".
Another encounter with hip hop royalty was entirely unplanned. While visiting his girlfriend in LA, James was invited to Kanye West's studio: "He summons you like some sort of emperor". He found himself playing tracks from his 2011 EP "Love What Happened Here" to a crack team of hip hop producers and meeting Jay-Z, who approvingly told him, "You're a baaad man."
The walls have certainly come down on Overgrown. From Take a Fall For Me's jetlagged hip hop to Life Round Here's hall-of-mirrors take on a late 90s R&B jam, from Voyeur's dizzying house music to the sensual lullaby of closing track Our Love Comes Back, James never has the same idea twice. "I probably won't use a sound if it reminds me of another song and another time. That's gone. It's done now. Things should always progress."
This relentlessly forward-thinking approach is reflected in James's enduring love of dance music: he currently runs a club night at London's Plastic People called 1-800-Dinosaur. "I feel at home in clubs. Dance music constantly mutates and evolves and never stays still."
James's newfound confidence and thirst for change has produced a second album that takes him to a new level of craft and feeling that his previous work only hinted at. "These last two years have really formed me," says James. "I have huge ambitions."
It all comes back to that conversation about permanence at the Troubadour. The message of Overgrown is clear: James Blake is here to stay.
Overgrown is released on Atlas on April 8:
02. I Am Sold
03. Life Around Here
04. Take A Fall For Me
07. Digital Lion
09. To The last
10. Our Love Comes Back
James Blake UK Shows
26/02 - ICA - London (Sold Out)
09/04 - Heaven - London
10/04 - Academy 2 - Manchester
11/04 - The Arches - Glasgow