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Artist of the Week: James Blake

London producer primed for hype in 2011 with his gorgeous Feist cover

December 23, 2010 4:55 PM ET

Who: This 22-year-old London-based producer and singer-songwriter has been a darling of London’s dubstep scene for the past two years, but gained significant attention over the course of 2010 for a trio of EPs that were acclaimed by Pitchfork, Stereogum and Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson. He’s now poised to blow up with his self-titled debut album, a startlingly mature collection of tunes that finds an unlikely middle ground between the abstract electronica of his EPs and soulful balladry.

Sounds Like: Imagine if Antony of the Johnsons recorded an R&B album with Aphex Twin, or a scratched CD of Arthur Russell and Marvin Gaye collaborating in the afterlife. Blake foregrounds his haunting, highly expressive voice in tracks that juxtapose glitchy electronic textures with acoustic piano and ample negative space. His vocal melodies are simple and striking, and serve as the emotional anchor for compositions that shift on surprising tangents without disrupting the mood.

Feist Fan: Blake composed and performed most of the album by himself, but the record’s first single is a striking cover of Feist’s "Limit to Your Love" (watch Blake's video for the song, above). Her version of the song was already quite stark, but Blake’s take pushes even further into minimalism without losing any of its tunefulness or emotional weight. It’s an excellent introduction to Blake's style — bold and unusual in its sound, while direct in its sentiment and familiar in form.

Live Beginner: Blake has been active in London’s music scene for while and has performed with the electronic duo Mount Kimbie, but he is only just now beginning to play his own material in concert. Though the record was made by himself using a computer, the singer intends to tour behind the album with a full live band without the aid of laptops. As of now, he has only played a few shows in England, but going on this audience footage of his band playing the slow-burning ballad "The Wilhelm Scream," the tour promises to be rather intense.

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