Less is more for James Blake 

Like many young artists, British electronic conceptualist James Blake could disavow any influence from his equally famous father, ex-Colosseum guitarist James Litherland.

But that’s not how he rolls. Even as a kid, his dad always encouraged him to become involved in technology and music.

“He was one of the first people who had their own studio in their house, with all the equipment to record and finish a track at home, so he taught me how to do everything on my own,” the 22-year-old musician says.  “And from his experiences being in a band, I learned that I didn’t want to be in one.”  

That inevitably led to Blake’s eponymous new DIY debut, one of the most sonically startling records of the year, which he’ll premiere in The City at a sold-out show at the Great American Music Hall today.  

In arresting processionals such as “The Wilhelm Scream” and “I Never Learnt to Share,” he dissects pop down to a sinewy exoskeleton, allowing only the slightest whiffs of percussion and keyboards to suffice.

His songs’ melodies are carried by his cracked, scratchy vocals alone, as on “Measurements,” in which he multitracked himself singing a dozen times, at different pitches and speeds, for a jarring but rich-textured effect.

“Yes, it is imperfect,” he says of the song. “Completely imperfect!”

Colosseum, in its late-1960s heyday, was just as experimental.

“But it wasn’t like, ‘My dad’s a carpenter, so I’m going to be a carpenter too.’ It was just that music really did it for me from a very early age,” says Blake, who shunned conservatories for the broader arts curriculum of London’s Goldsmiths University.

“That’s where I learned about minimalism and played a lot of gamelan, both of which were quite influential on me,” he says. “I began to listen to music in a different way, and the idea of repetition became a positive thing instead of something that bored me.”

Blake revered the eclecticism of Gavin Bryars, but wound up in lofty Philip Glass territory as he began paring down chords.

Two years ago, he arrived at his first single, “Air & Lack Thereof,” which got him instant BBC 1 radio play, as did his follow-up, a bare-bones take on Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.”

“A lot of people have asserted that they’re not songs, what’s on my album, that they’re unfinished things,” says Blake, knowing he’s an acquired taste. “Like, I wanted to write a song, but I only got halfway through. But a song is so subjective, isn’t it? Even a [soccer] chant is a song, and people will sing that for half an hour at a time!”


If you go

James Blake

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $21
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.gamhtickets.com

About The Author

Tom Lanham

Pin It

More by Tom Lanham

Latest in Pop Music & Jazz

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation