I wearied of the term dubstep far quicker than I imagined I would, and as such I instantaneously grew weary of the term post-dubstep. As the year begins to shape up, and various music polls tip their tainted hats towards ‘new’ artists that have been recording and releasing music for a considerable time longer than published, many have been unceremoniously tagged with this meaningless tag. Admittedly, taking issue with generic labelling is at best misguided (and at worst infuriating) as it detracts from artistic merit in a way that makes my teeth ache, but in this case I’m wondering exactly what is post about post-dubstep. Mount Kimbie are not to early DMZ releases what Joy Division were to early British punk rock. If anything, what was popularised by Mary Anne Hobbs in her legendary 2006 ‘Dubstep Warz’ Breezeblock show on BBC Radio 1 as the dubstep sound has simply evolved. Or split. In one corner we have the gut-bustingly hideous productions of Magnetic Man, Rusko et al. who rely less on bass and more on how wasted the ‘Freshers-Week-Every-Week’ crowds are, and in the other there are those who have splintered away from the bass-obsession to create something altogether more interesting.
James Blake is leading this camp with his self-titled debut album, and whilst he has been picked for the BBC Sound of 2011 list, the sheer weirdness and inventive scope of the record may hinder any serious chances of it gaining the kind of mainstream accessibility that the BBC seem to hope it will. The pitched-down vocals from his previous work on CMYK and Klavierwerke have developed into an eeriness that leans towards the Southern rap style of Chopped and Screwed as much as it does to Bjork and Joanna Newsom. Whilst his EPs specialised in taking early 2000’s R&B vocal loops and crushing them up beyond recognition, his album makes the undeniable presence of his own original and very touching voice its unfurling creative thread. With his simultaneously harmonious and broken vocals constantly playing catch up with the beat, or leaving it dragging behind him, James Blake joins a form of music production that uses the human voice as an instrument in itself, rather than another squashed layer in the fabric of the sound.
For such a sparse palette it all sounds remarkably balanced; the keys, synths, drum machine and vocoder are always fragile but never quite snap under the weight of one another. Where dubstep is often loud to the point of creative exhaustion, there’s an elegantly beautiful quietness to James Blake. His lead single ‘Limit To Your Love’ – a Feist cover – is the only potentially mainstream track on the album, and one that the BBC will probably wring out until shrivelled. But Blake will almost certainly be able to maintain a graceful arms length from the Kiss of Death that the sound of the year selection has delivered to artists in the past, if only because his album is one of the most creative releases I have heard in a long time. I’m just waiting for the rest of the so called post-dubstep crew to play catch up.