James Blake isn’t one for heaviness, per se. His music is subtle and refined; gaps of tense silence interrupting snapping drums and rolling synth, the soundtrack to the sounds in between thunder claps (or lack thereof). His simple trepidation is a trademark, and it always has been — “always” meaning his most recent (and first) full-length single.

James Blake

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“Retrograde”
R&S Records


While this not-quite-dubstep sound of Blake’s was revolutionary at the time of his first album’s release, it began to get old quickly — very quickly. Only eight months after his debut, Blake released the Enough Thunder EP, a tired recap of the sounds all of his listeners got used to months earlier. Blake appeared to be somewhat sonically lost, and it was alarming to all who loved his once-elegant electronica.

Over a year later, however, Blake doesn’t appear to be lost at all. His new single, “Retrograde,” is tinged with novel R&B croon and 808 bass, sounds Blake was only barely comfortable with years ago. The track is still subtle in its James Blake-ness, yes, but it also has more chutzpah than ever before — whereas Blake used to hide his voice behind overpowering synth, he now highlights it as the very melody which carries the shifting allure of the entire track. The song is confident in its repeating claps, potent in its deep melodies and even sexy with its controlling R&B core. It’s constant with a distinct beginning and end (unlike the drolling half-synth of many of his older work), and it demands listeners to listen – it yells out “I am a pop track, and you will enjoy me.”

Simply put, the song is beautiful. It’s a case for Blake’s own originality, a reminder to the world that the Blake we once knew is still there. And based on “Retrograde,” he isn’t leaving anytime soon.

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