Spotlight: James Blake

Blake's self titled debut LP, released February 7th.

James Blake is one soulful mother f—–. That’s about the easiest way to introduce this extremely talented young artist/producer out of London.

I was first brought to the attention of his existence when I had a brief foray into the world of dubstep, which is a downtempo, melody driven type of electronic music. He first garnered notice with his debut 12″ vinyl EP, entitled “Air and Lack Thereof” in 2009, which was received quite well across the United Kingdom and most notably by the BBC. He followed this up with a few more (mostly) instrumental EPs and doing remixes for acts like Mount Kimbie.

Blake then set upon recording his debut LP, the cover art of which is posted to the left. It was released earlier this month to pretty strong fanfare in the UK and he has quickly gotten the attention of those of us here in the United States.  Not surprisingly, the album is very downtempo.  I have had a tough time trying to generalize his music as the influences are all over the place. Ranging from modern to old school R&B, through virtually the entire pantheon of downtempo electronica.

The standout for me is not the music alone, but the kid’s (he’s only 22) stunning vocals. As mentioned, I had been familiar with his previous work i.e. the Klavierwerke EP which was released in 2010, but I was not prepared for what his album held in store for me. It’s a soulful, beautiful piece of music, with songs like the Feist cover “Limit to Your Love” and my personal favorite “The Wilhelm’s Scream” being my personal favorites.

I was tempted to write a review of the record, but instead I’d rather just introduce him to those that may not know him. If you enjoy soulful, relaxing music that makes you feel, you probably can’t do much better than James Blake right now.

Blake plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 14th, which I believe is his United States solo debut before he heads to Austin for a few shows during SXSW.  The Williamsburg show is currently sold out, but if you’re itching, I’d suggest following Bowery Presents and the Music Hall via Twitter and watch for some ticket releases. I’ll be attending this gig and am eagerly anticipating it. If you’re going, let me know!

In the meantime, here’s “The Wilhelm’s Scream” which was recorded for the BBC. You can also check out his website to listen to more. SXEHX9PEM8UR

Gig review: Asobi Seksu 2/17/2011 – Mercury Lounge, NYC

Asobi Seksu - Mercury Lounge 2/17/2011

To preface this review, I would be remiss to not state that it’s completely biased as I am a fan of this band and have been following them for quite a while. Hell, the frontwoman is the first image in this blog’s banner. Anyway, here it goes…

Thursday night’s gig at NYC’s venerable Mercury Lounge was a highlight of my return to regular gig-going since I’ve returned to the city.  Asobi Seksu, by way of Brooklyn, were here tonight for a record release show in support of their newest album, Fluorescence. The show clearly showcased this record and they also dusted off some of their most well known tunes in what I can only describe as a very loud, fun show.

Opening this evening were two bands that I had never heard of before. I’ve had some luck with this situation the last couple of times I’ve experienced this, and Thursday was no different. First up was Brooklyn-based, what I can best describe as “electronic shoegaze” act, “Elika“. I was unable to catch the majority of their set, so I can’t really give them a proper review. That being said, I have to say that I was marginally impressed with what they put out there. They seemed nervous to me and I found the lead singers vocals to be a bit off in places, but there are definitely some tunes in their repertoire. I hope to see them again in the future and give them a better listen.

Yuki

Next up was another Brooklyn-based act, this being “Family Band“. Hearing a band call themselves “Family Band” immediately made me think of the Charles Manson “Family” and I did not know what to expect when they took the stage. I have to say that I was greatly impressed with this act. The opening number featured a lap steel guitar and the frontwoman, Kim Krans’ vocals were excellent and I greatly appreciated the lap steel opening and guitar tones throughout the set. The best way to describe “Family Band” is a homogenization of various influences ranging from Mazzy Star to moodier psychedelic rock almost Slowdive-like, but without the layers.  I was happy that their repertoire is fairly straightforward and they have some very beautiful tunes. After I peeled myself off the floor and found myself in front of a computer today, the first thing I did was go to their Bandcamp and listen to their debut LP, Miller Path, which is an excellent listen, as is the EP “Cold Songs” which is also available along with some free tracks.

Family Band are opening for Warpaint at their sold out Bowery Ballroom show late next month and are also playing the same slot at Brooklyn Bowl the day before.  I’d recommend their music to anyone who enjoys moody psychedelia in the vein of Mazzy Star.

Finally, Asobi Seksu was ready to take the stage. The Mercury Lounge is arguably my favorite venue in the entire world, so being able to see a band that I consider a favorite here is always a treat. As each bandmember took the stage, cheers from friends in the audience rose up and the two main components of Asobi Seksu, including my indie Queen, Yuki Chikudate, and lead guitarist, James Hanna, acknowledged these calls with waves and smiles. You could tell the band was itching to play this gig by the time they launched into their opening number. I can also guarantee that no male, or female for that matter, took their eyes off of Yuki for the entire set.

Yuki Chikudate

I am normally good at remembering basic setlists, but the combination of drinks, friends, and the way the show just seemed to start out of nowhere following the opening sets, I have definitely forgotten a bit. The material that stuck out most for me was, surprisingly, the new stuff off of Fluorescence. One thing that I have to be a bit critical about was the sheer resonance of the volume. However, the low ceilings at the Mercury Lounge do lend a hand in this occurring. Its a minor gripe as the mix was perfect for where the show was, with Yuki’s crystalline vocals pouring out over waves of reverb and feedback supplied by Hanna and fellow bandmates. Yuki’s hair was flying with every one of her rock out moments and the sight of it covering her face and hearing the passion she delivers her vocals with was an awesome sight to witness and hear.

Comparing this gig to the last time I saw Asobi Seksu in a normal fashion (wont count the acoustic gig) was how tight the band was on whole. The last time I saw them plugged in, the rhythm section was not what it is now. The older material the band played at the Mercury Lounge show was propelled with a force that I’ve not experienced from them previously via the backend. Bassist Billy Pavone and drummer Larry Gorman were a perfect match as has been shown via prior radio sessions and the last couple of albums, but live that chemistry was even more evident. I was greatly impressed with the musicianship all four of them gave to the audience this night. James Hanna’s guitar playing was also “on-point” as he sent sonic shockwaves that made my ears bleed with glee.

Overall, this was easily the best Asobi Seksu show I’ve attended and this includes the acoustic gig I witnessed in support of ReWolf, which is arguably my favorite recording of theirs. The new material fit in perfectly with the old standards like Thursday, and Yuki more than keeps her status as the most stunning woman in indie rock. Thanks for a great night guys!

Ratings:

Elika N/A – I say N/A as I did not catch much of their set, but the songs I did catch, I’d give a round 7/10.

Family Band – 8/10

Asobi Seksu – 10/10

Asobi Seksu play the Bowery Ballroom on 4/7. I’ll be there with bells. Hope to see some of you that may be reading this there as well!

James Hanna

Yuki

She's got legs...

The requisite drummer photo.

School of Seven Bells strip down.

School of Seven Bells

Recently,  School of Seven Bells visited KEXP in Seattle and performed a brief acoustic set. They played 3 tunes all of which were rather exquisite performances.

If you’re not familiar with the band, they are a duo (former trio) based out of New York City with former members of the Secret Machines and of now-defunct shoegaze/dream pop act on!air!library! They released their second album, Disconnect from Desire, last year which is where all three of these songs come from. Disconnect From Desire was ranked #13 on my top albums of 2010. Definitely worth a listen if you enjoy acts like Mazzy Star or shoegaze/dream pop in general.

I’ve taken the liberty of splitting the lossless stream and converting to mp3 so I could have them on my ipod, and have uploaded that for your enjoyment below.

The fourth track is a “bonus”. It comes from a 2008 acoustic session the band (at the time a trio) did for “Live at Lime”. Live at Lime was a series produced by LimeWire after they attempted to go legit and produced a series of digital EPs akin to iTunes’ live exclusives.

The song included in my compiled EP was the “free” one from the Lime at Live EP called “White Elephant Coat” off of the band’s debut album, “Alpinisms”.  Sadly, it seems that the rest of the EP is lost forever as the LimeWire store has closed its doors seemingly for good. It’s sad as this session sounds like it was brilliant, but unless you were one of the lucky few to pick it up (I was unaware of its existence), its probably gone forever. If anyone has this session, please drop me a line!

At any rate, here’s the recent KEXP session along with 1 track from the aforementioned “Live at Lime” session.

Download

White Elephant Coat video from 2008 “Live at Lime” session

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