Song 4: James Blake – Limit To Your Love
For most of 2010, James Blake was slowly making a name for himself constructing astonishingly composed post-dubsteppy electronica, weaving super-addictive fabrics out of samples of Aaliyah and Kelis and wonderfully intimate recordings of an upright piano. And although his two EPs this year were startling – you should own them – and rank among 2010’s best releases, the manner in which he chose to step out from the shadows cast by his laptop screen was something you could never imagine a hyped bedroom producer doing.
Picture Burial or Joy Orbison, or even Four Tet, ditching their genre to sit at a piano and cover an album track by a Canadian singer-songwriter. And then picture them producing it with the same precision, snap and crispness that they apply to their electronic work. With his reimagining of Limit To Your Love, that’s exactly was Blake has done. The first minute sets a reasonably orthodox scene – the elegant piano figure, faithfully reproduced, and Blake’s surprisingly soulful voice – but it’s his producer’s instinct that follows which makes the track tick. He insists on beautifully pregnant pauses, a device that not only allows the track to breathe but also accentuates the hit of the understated and deeply undulating bass. He slowly builds layer over layer, mutating as he goes with an admirable boldness, until the final minute of the song is unexpectedly brooding and melancholic in a way at which Portishead once excelled, and to which Bon Iver alluded in the savagely autotuned and perfectly paced wonder that is Woods.
There are two ways of looking at Limit To Your Love, both of them exciting for such a relatively new talent. The first is to marvel at Blake’s versatility, both in comparison to his more straightforward electronica and in his ability to extract and twist the essence of a beautiful song that isn’t his own. The second is to admire the song in its own right, performed and produced with an intelligence and warmth that more than excuses his slightly cloying glottal stop on each pronunciation of “waterfall”. But both reveal him as sensitive, subtle and frighteningly imaginative in his musical scope; there’s a Midas touch to all his work at the moment, so now we just wait for the album.