Today’s Sounds: James Blake, Jacques Greene, KEN Mode, Chvrches

The new album by 24-year-old British singer/producer James Blake, plus a track by Montreal’s Jacques Greene with Tinashe, a video by Winnipeg heavy-hitters KEN Mode & a bonus slice of Glasgow’s Chvrches giallo-ing up the Game of Thrones theme song.


James Blake, Overgrown (Universal)

Although one should always approach new music with a clean slate, in the period leading up to Overgrown’s release, internally I had a hard time blocking out my own irrelevant hopes of what James Blake’s new album should sound like.

The 24-year-old Brit has already proven to be a slippery chameleon in his short career, going from underground dubstep producer to electro-glitch balladeer to straight-laced piano man (to creator of dorky, fun elevator jams with “Love What Happened Here”), so in a way my futile projections were a result of my desire for him to stand still for a second. His eponymous debut was a compelling, progressive deconstruction of pop songcraft, and I wasn’t ready for him to discard that skin and become the populist R&B loverboy he’s destined to become.

But Blake is the artist here, and as is the mark of a truly talented one, he didn’t give me the album I wanted, but ultimately produced one I could never have anticipated. Overgrown contains callbacks to sonic and stylistic experiments he’s undertaken before, but it’s also his first concerted attempt at bringing all of his disparate parts together. It’s less rigid than his debut, and therefore more free to occasionally return to his club roots without it feeling like he’s trying to win back his earliest fans.

His processed vocal ticks — which somehow make him more human — remain, but he also has no problem singing without adornment. Lyrically speaking, he still likes repeating the same line or two, delivering them each time with slight alterations, but Overgrown for the most part isn’t strikingly barren, like its predecessor. The things that made his debut so refreshing are all present, but he’s not pushing his manipulations to the forefront anymore. The sounds are now there to service the songs, although don’t expect unplugged versions any time soon.

The latter half of the record is more danceable and forms a nice comedown suite, but the first four mesmerizing tracks firmly re-establish Blake as a true pop vanguard. Even the unexpected collab with RZA (where it’s essentially the Wu-Tang member rapping over a dusty Blake piano/vocal sample production) somehow fits.

Blake’s music has presided over some intense personal moments in my life (critiquing can’t always be so cerebral), so maybe you won’t get as much out this album as I did, but I doubt it: Overgrown is exceptional because Blake had no intention of recalling his previous highs. Instead, he moved on and reached lofty new ones.


Jacques Greene & Tinashe, “Painted Faces”

A new track from local producer Jacques Greene, with L.A. chanteuse Tinashe.



KEN Mode, “Counter Culture Complex”

Directors Gwen Trutnau and Ryan Simmons cook up a pagan black mass with a twist of low-budget horror in this video by Winnipeg metal/hardcore band KEN Mode. It’s Nordic and wintry, but it warms Cult MTL’s cockles.
Ken Mode open for Today Is the Day, alongside Keelhaul and Fight Amp, at Il Motore on Sunday, April 14. Details here.



Chvrches, Game of Thrones theme

For all the Game of Thrones nerds out there (basically everybody), here’s a slice of cool young Glasgow band Chvrches synthing up the show’s theme song — real giallo soundtrack vibes here.


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