Music Commentary

Presenting 'James Blake', by, er, James Blake

March 21, 2011

Here is an engrossing interview with dubstep sensation James Blake, concerning the creative process behind his breakthrough, self-titled debut LP, hosted by Pitchfork’s Mark Pytlik.  The following is, of course, a synecdochical favorite:

Pitchfork: Which of your own compositions are you more likely to reject?

JB: The ones that don’t represent me. Let’s say you’re going to deliver a speech and you’ve got a few days to come up with something that totally represents you. You might finesse every single word and worry about every single nuance in that speech. When I’m writing a track, I feel like I have to produce something that totally represents me and, if it doesn’t, then it’s stopped immediately. There’s not even a second thought– I’ll close it and do something else.

Pitchfork: So it’s an emotional thing rather than an analytical thing?

JB: I studied music in school and I have the capacity to analyze it, but then you might stop connecting to the people that you’re making it for. People can smell dishonesty on you. On this album, I felt like I was being totally honest– so I don’t have anything to lose. It’s not like I’m thinking I’ve made a bold move into the mainstream and now I’m waiting to see what the criticism’s going to be; I’ve made something I’m really proud of and that is as uncompromising as any of the other things I’ve written. I’ve done everything I can to stick to my guns.

Pitchfork: Did you have to fight off pressure from producers or label types who wanted to have involvement in this record?

JB: Plenty, yeah. Not necessarily just from Universal, but from every direction. A year ago, there was a generally accepted proposition that the tracks that ended up on the album were demos, songs that needed to be taken to another level. They wanted to take them to the studios, scrub them up, maybe have a chorus switched around. Obviously, what’s going to come out of that is a really shit album– the worst albums are the ones where you can feel like someone’s tampered with it. But those tracks haven’t changed a lot since they were written. I didn’t even mix them down.

Blake’s comments are spot-on.  His thoughts on uncompromising honesty in lieu of mainstream expectations are especially resonant, if not liberating.

I have to admit, however, to being turned off by the dubstep-leaning album’s iTunes samples.  For instance, the first minute-long sample of Jame Blake‘s inaugural track, Unluck, features highly stylized vocals wrapped in a thin gauze of auto-tune-smelling plug-ins.  My mind’s immediate impulse to this particular suite of plug-ins akin to vocal tracking resembles an involuntary aesthetic upchuck.  Thus, I saved myself the price of digital admission ($9.99 on iTunes) for another, more magnanimous day.

Now, with blatant honesty also comes full disclosure.  That is, on behalf of your bespectacled narrator’s readers (all two of you).  I’ve been known to use a bloated sack of plug-ins throughout every aspect of my mixing duties in relation to my solo work (a.k.a., Panda Sanchez), even to the extent of not dutifully bussing my channel strip settings — the unpardonable sin.  I’m often in the moment and cannot be bothered with being a RAM-friendly, screen real estate neatnick.  My MacBook’s HDD hates me as much as I’d love a solid state drive.

In short, I can’t say shit.  Really, I can’t.

In fact, I’d say I’m often guilty of, as Blake puts it in the interview, “overcooking” the production — to the degree that it no longer represents me.

Pitch-correction and auto-tune are merely a pair of personal no-nos, you see.  And I’m not even a singer.

I sing, sure, but I’m not a singer.

I know what you Brooklynites are thinking: I need to give this album a fair spin, and not judge an album by its iTunes samples.  (Chalk me up to an unhip, bourgeois grouch.  I don’t mind).  After all, a music-creating cohort of mine swears by this album’s game-changing qualities, and I’d likely and theatrically fail at denying a profound respect for his opinion (and so would you).  So, why am I still here tinkering with this vaporous blog post about an album I haven’t even listened to yet, you ask?

(Crickets chirping)

(Wouldn’t it be freaky if tumbleweeds chirped too?)

PS:  If you ever happen to meet Blake in person, don’t compliment his vocals by using the adjective, “soulful.”  It will offend him.  Confused?  Suffice it to say that the vocals that erupt from his diaphragm have nothing to do with his appearance.  Still confused?  Just read the fucking interview, man.

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