Well before London native James Blake’s angelic tenor voice elevated him into the mainstream spotlight in the UK and US music scenes, (ultimately culminating in him being featured on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”) he was one of dubstep’s most promising young producers; and his voice, lovely as it is, had little to do with it. What vocals did appear on Blake’s earliest releases, the EP “CMYK” chief among them, were warped, pitch-shifted, and melded with the dubstep rhythms and unearthly sample selections of each individual track until they were recognizable only as “singing” as filtered through the dense haze of Blake’s forest of sounds.
It was the kind of dubstep that existed halfway between the atmospheric insomnia of Burial’s future garage and the dynamic angularity of Horsepower Productions’ 2-Step. There’s much to love in the direction Blake has taken his music since then, even as it has moved further and further away from his origins. Even so, hearing Blake in 2018 revisit some of his older production techniques and use them in his more recent styles of music has been an unexpected and ultimately pleasing experience.
“If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead” by James Blake
“If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead” is Blake’s first solo output of 2018, but it could likely have been released at any point in Blake’s career, past or future, and still sound perfectly in place. The new single is fundamentally a pop song, tinged with the moody alternative r&b that has characterized Blake’s work for as long as he’s been singing over it. But that pop-soul has also been chopped and rearranged into a serrated array of vocal smatterings and wonky sample assortments with a production ethos entirely in-line with how Blake has previously approached the most conventional dubstep of his career. But this is not dubstep, this is left-field pop music being approached from a dubstep perspective, and it isn’t nearly as jarring as one might imagine, but it is certainly as interesting. To be wholly fair there are still more than a few hints of dubstep here (again, namely of the atmospheric “future garage” variety) but more prominently “If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead” is a track in which Blake has applied what he has already mastered early in his career to everything he has learned and embraced musically since then.
“If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead” is a brief, largely unassuming summary of Blake as creator over this past almost ten years. Thus, appropriately, the song is a prime representation of the main emotional states represented by the bulk of Blake’s music regardless of sub-genre. “If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead” is haunting, heartfelt, and melancholy; all in equal proportion and all working together in quiet, unsuspecting emotional synthesis.