It's been two years since the debut self-titled album from James Blake dropped from the sky. The vocal-driven, song-based LP was a surprise to those who followed Blake's earlier work, especially the largely sample-based CMYK EP. Eight months after releasing that full-length debut, Blake put out the Enough Thunder EP, featuring a Bon Iver collaboration that continued down the path laid out by his album, highlighting the Londoner's tender side. Now Blake has announced a new full-length, coming on April 8th, called Overgrown. It's a welcome return for the current prince of electro-soul.
The first single off of that album is called "Retrograde," and it shows growth in Blake's heart-wrenching numbers. The video for "Retrograde," looks like an unsettling dream. It begins with an image of a burning fireball falling from on high and then follows Blake through a house where lovers hang suspended in space. As these figures hold steady, a figure in motorcycle gear drifts slowly between them. The video ends outside of the house, with images of small flames burning in the woods.
The song behind the video draws from a familiar kit of sounds: stringy synthesizers, electronic drums, and Blake's fragile croon. But the beat is about as simple as they come. It's free of the jarring syncopation that marked much of his earlier work, with simple bass drum kicks on the first and third beats of the measure, and claps on the second and fourth. This boom-clap repetition, filled out by sustained chords, places the focus on Blake the soul-singer. It's a confident move away from rhythmic complexity, into simple, elegant songwriting, reaffirming the idea that Blake's got the chops to carry a track with his voice alone. The music, like the video, places Blake front and center.