Source Material: James Blake
Dubstep has been crossing over into pop music for a while now, but in all the potential ways the genre could have developed, perhaps the most unexpected line of flight is traced by James Blake, who started out sculpting idiosyncratic, atmospheric tracks in Burial's mold and now delivers a debut album that establishes him as a very different kind of musician. Largely leaving dubstep behind, James Blake finds the producer forging a more personal sound out of scraps of club music, ambient and R&B.
Blake's supple, expressive voice carries the day, multitracked into gospel-influenced harmonies or Auto-Tuned into a surreal warble. As a producer, he makes do with the bare minimum, running pitter-pat drum programming in loose rings around solemn piano chords. Between the album's naked emotion and guarded sound design, the contradictions only reinforce its uniqueness.
That doesn't mean that it's without precedent: you can hear traces of avowed influences like Joni Mitchell or D'Angelo in his skeletal songwriting and production, and similar ideas play out in the work of his contemporaries in left-field electronic music, from Darkstar to How to Dress Well. We examine his peers and antecedents below and offer a selection of their music, along with Blake's early EPs, in a 90-minute playlist.