The assumed ascendance of James Blake never quite happened. Sure, these days the British producer and crooner plays large clubs, and in early April, he released his second LP, Overgrown, on a major label. But before he issued his self-titled debut in early 2011, it seemed that Blake was the decade's next breakout pop star. From the icy beckon of "Limit to Your Love" to the resplendent bass plunges of "The Wilhelm Scream," Blake possessed an intriguing sonic toolkit, a voice that felt like that of a new friend, and a hitmaker's sense of momentum and drama. But to date, Blake has largely been unable to move beyond the cloistered circles that first pushed him toward intense Internet buzz.
He does not force the issue on Overgrown, a record that, in spite of what a guest appearance by RZA might suggest, does not grasp at populist straws. On "Life Round Here," for instance, Blake subverts a would-be club banger, pushing his hook beneath a messy web of beats; on the gorgeous ballad "DLM," he revels in the sound of his own voice, treating a hook like a study of its surface rather than simple radio-ready bait. Blake remains an adventurer, happily tied less to expectation than experimentation, even at its most accessible. With Samiyam.—Grayson Currin