The Bubble Album Reviews No. 25

James Blake – Overgrown
On first listen, the opening songs of James Blake’s second album, Overgrown, could fit quite easily onto his last one. However, the album has a newfound sense of warmth which sets it apart from his earlier music. Recent interviews with Blake have focused on his (long-distance) relationship with Theresa Wayman, the guitarist and singer of Warpaint. Many of the songs on Overgrown seem to be inspired by this relationship and the music definitely benefits. The second song on the album, ‘I am Sold’, seems to be about figuring some of these feelings out, and is built around the words ‘And we lay nocturnal/Speculate what we feel’ set to a lovely little vocal phrase. The phrase is examined again and again in different musical contexts, cleverly evoking the meaning of the lyrics.

One of my favourite things about the new album is the way Blake manages to combine experimental dubstep of his earlier EPs with the minimal soul-influenced music of his first album. The best example this is the third track on the album, ‘Life Round Here\. Synth broken chords, a skittering beat and emotive vocals combine to brilliant effect; the end result is one of the best songs he’s ever produced. The other two songs which owe the most to dance music are ‘Digital Lion’ and ‘Voyeur’. The first is a collaboration with Brian Eno, while the second is ostensibly a House track, inspired by his experience co-running a London club night. Both songs burst into life after subdued intros, ‘Voyeur’ especially gets into a great groove once it gets going (when I saw him live a few weeks ago it was massive).

The centrepiece of the album, ‘Retrograde’, is an absolutely stunning song; opening with an improvisatory vocal hum and some piano chords, it gradually unfolds until it reaches a huge synth driven climax on the words ‘Suddenly I’m hit’. The song is strangely catchy, I’ve found myself humming the meandering opening refrain quite a lot and it has deservedly been getting a lot of radio airplay. It also is a showcase for Blake’s voice, some sweet falsetto is used alongside his low range to great effect. However, the most adventurous song on the album is probably the collaboration with RZA, ‘Take a Fall For Me’. But rather than helping with production, RZA raps about a failed romance over over a dark, languid beat while Blake interjects with small vocal phrases every now and again. The rapping is good, however there are some UK specific lines which seem a bit shoehorned in; I never expected to hear a member of the Wu-Tang Clan rapping about ‘fish and chips with vinegar with a glass of cold Stout’. I think it works though, and it makes the talk about a rumoured collaboration with Kendrick Lamar all the more exciting.

While not all the songs on the album reach the highs of ‘Retrograde’ and ‘Life Round Here’, Overgrown is a definite step forward for James Blake. More well rounded than his first album, it combines his talent for production with some of his best ever songwriting.

By Michael VasmerJustin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
NSYNC’s former band member has come a long way since his ramen-noodle-hair days but is Justin Timberlake’s newest album, The 20/20 Experience a manifestation of this?

The album is Timberlake’s third studio album and its predecessor FutureSex/LoveSounds was released seven years ago! The album was produced by Timberlake’s trusted accomplice and confidant Timbaland and the two have been a force to be reckoned with ever since the pair’s first Grammy winning collaboration Cry Me a River and The 20/20 Experience is a perfect example of the power of this relationship.

Timberlake prides himself on always “changing it up” and is sincere to this dictum with The 20/20 Experience. The album isn’t monotoned in anyway and Timberlake shifts from upbeat songs like ‘Suit and Tie’ and ‘Body Count’ to more soulful tunes like ‘Spaceship Coupe’. More impressive were songs like ‘Let the Groove Get In’ featuring a samba rhythm or ‘Don’t Hold the Wall’ displaying stirring vocal melodies of some Indian enchantress (classic Timbaland).

I’d like to class the piece as a soul album but it isn’t one.The album is true to an always current Timberlake and his Tennessee roots, and is yet distinct from any current annoying trend. But some things were amiss (and Timberlake can accredit this to having a seven year break between albums but only using nine months of that time to produce the entire thing). Timberlake has never failed to impress the ladies with his music by the overuse of words like “baby”, “beautiful” and especially “girl”, all of which are present in every song. However, songs like ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ feature lines like “Little girl [surprise, surprise] won’t you be my strawberry bubblegum …And i’ll love you till I make you pop”, “as soon as I look in your face” or “yesterday was history …tomorrow’s a mystery” were all signs of a not-so-creative Justin but this is then negated in the chorus of ‘Mirrors’ featuring some heartfelt lyrics (Its always nice to see influential men going on about how they are nothing without their ‘other halves’). But the track ‘Blue Ocean Floor’ is probably the most apparent sign of a metamorphosed Timberlake. It contains no gimmicks and exhibits a clean and pure exhibition of Timberlake’s voice.

So was the album worth a seven year wait? Probably not, however as mentioned above, the album wasn’t seven years in the making. JT and Timberland began working together late June 2012 with no target in mind; seeing as this was less than a year ago the album is a fine accomplishment for nine months worth of an effort. But in its entirety, The 20/20 Experience is a sign of a more mature and experienced Timberlake; he has come far from his boy-band days and from the sound of the album it seems as though he will continue to evolve, let’s just hope it isn’t another seven years till we actually see this evolution. Timberlake had much to live up to with his last album and with that comes mounting expectations, however with The 20/20 Experience, expectations have been met and surpassed. That having been said I’m not sure how long Timberlake will hold up; the fact that he has also been branching out with his career show signs that he may not always produce music. But regardless of how we choose to get our regular dose of JT, one thing is certain – he will always be the man who brought “Sexyback” (it had to be done).

By Charlie de SouzaYouth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
So here’s my concept of Wondrous Bughouse. The realm of Youth Lagoon’s fantastic debut Year of Hibernation has been left to rot/ferment. But instead of two years, it seems like a century. Everything is (more) out of tune; the tight single-worthy songs of the debut have been neglected and melted into colourful sonic puddles. Indeed the remnants of ‘Cannons’ from Hibernation can be heard as a stuck loop on Bughouse’s ‘The Bath’. It would not be far off to say the album sounds like an abandoned carousel, or the canal trip in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Except the real inspiration seems more psychological than visual. As the album cover of Hibernation seems like the outside of a cave, the cover of Bughouse looks like some fantastic troglodyte world that is eons away from the surface. Trevor Powers’ motto seems to have been ‘go deeper’.

This tactic may seem risky. For it becomes simultaneously more personal and more unrelatable. We no longer have the universal themes to grasp onto, like ‘Posters’ or ‘Afternonn’. Instead we have nightmarish apparitions, a ‘Pelican man’ and ‘Attic Doctor’. This is perhaps why a few, including originally myself, were disappointed with Wondrous Bughouse. It did not have the simple riffs, the heartstring pullers, that cosily distant voice that we had eagerly anticipated. Now Youth Lagoon sounded like it had been left out in the sun for too long- or not been out at all. But I supposemusical maturing is neither easy nor graceful. And perhaps it was this in mind that I’ve eventually come to appreciate this unique album. Its molassal thickness can be intimidating, but if you wade through it enough it can be very rewarding. Perhaps the greatest challenge is getting through the first song, which is random spurts of keyboard, almost a rite of passage for listeners into the ‘bughouse’. But once through, there are some standout songs like ‘Mute’, ‘Dropla’ and ‘Third Dystopia’. There are also some playfully irritating songs like ‘Attic Doctor’ and ‘The Bath,’ to remind you that the ride will not necessarily be comfortable.
Thus Wondrous Bughouse feels like a transitional album. It is of Youth Lagoon searching still deeper into his musical psyche and describing the things he has seen on the way. Much will decide its worth with his following album, which will hopefully elucidate whether it was part of a great trilogy, or in fact a standalone classic. For now it is a challenge, and that is perhaps one of the greatest gifts real music can offer.

By Oliver WhiteKurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
It’s nice when an indie musician has been in the limelight enough to develop a recognisable persona. Or more perhaps that listeners are made to formulate their views around the persona rather than merely pigeonhole it. Danny Brown is one of them. Bradford Cox is another. Kurt Vile has crystallised into one. Indeed that hairy, guitar-wielding slacker has taken his ‘take-it-easy’ persona into parenthood. But funnily enough responsibility hasn’t made our man nervous, like Matt Berninger’s parental lament in the National’s ‘Afraid of Everyone’. In fact Vile has sunk into his character even more and given his songs room to breathe. I’ve got a feeling he’s not an uptight parent.
This point is immediately made in the spectacular nine-minute opener ‘Wakin On a Pretty Day,’ which plays as calming as it sounds. It will definitely become one of my summer regulars. The album continues in the same fashion, with each song averaging around five minutes, and not taking too much care for a chorus or poignant versing. This slackerness, as a few publications have pointed out, can sometimes be a bit irritating, and it is debateable how far Vile can get away with it. To start, Vile’s most standout single ‘Never Run Away’ doesn’t really compare with songs from his previous breakthrough album Smoke Ring for My Halo like ‘Baby’s Arms’ and ‘Jesus Fever’. Likewise the electronic drum-beat song ‘Was All Talk’ is no way near as epic as the earlier similar-sounding ‘Freak Train’.

Yet dissections aside, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, floats well. Though not chart-topping, the songs are all enjoyable, best appreciated as factors of the album as a whole. Indeed, as Daze suggests, the best way to enjoy the album is to get lost in it: the other long songs ‘Too Hard’ and ‘Goldtone’ are excellent starting points. And then ‘Shame Chamber’ (with a great ‘whoo!’ in the middle) and ‘Air Bud’ are good songs to liven up to.

The lack of urgency in this album can be contentious. For Vile’s two former albums had some overriding theme, Constant Hitmaker of a musician anxious to be a contender, and Smoke Ring for My Halo of a this musician struggling to cope, having become one. Now that Vile’s to some extent ‘made it’, I personally think he deserves this space he has given himself in Daze. It is not self-indulgent but highly enjoyable, listening to his musical ponderings for an hour. For now, at least, Vile has occupied a fruitful patch of his own musical persona, which I’m sure will only flourish even more as we too wake up sometime in summer and it’s actually sunny.

By Oliver White

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