Sophmore Sensational: Youth Lagoon & James Blake

Unequivocally two of my favorite discoveries and albums of 2011 were the English dub-step wunderkind James Blake (James Blake) and the Idaho lo-fi dream-folk of Youth Lagoon (The Year in Hibernation).  Both are back in 2013 with new tracks and forthcoming records.

yl bughouseYouth Lagoon struck first in early January with “Dropla” but is teasing us even further with another pleasant number filled with YL’s textbook muffled, echoing vocals sounding like something between an adolescent daydream and aural kaleidoscope.  But where The Year In Hibernation was an inward-looking personal exploration and recollection, the first two tracks from Wondrous Bughouse (click to pre-order) are exploding outwards into the universe for answers. Trevor’s newest single “Mute” begins with a sunshine infused sheen that explodes into a mix of aural gears and shifts that turn  from optimistic to quizzical to searching.  For a young artist who found a corner of the musical universe un- or under-explored, it is exciting to see him pushing into a new realm of experimentation.  (Something about the new songs recalls the Flaming Lips in the pre-Soft Bulletin psych/pop eccentricity.)  Also, really digging the youthful Chagall/Kandinsky looking cover art.

James Blake’s “Retrograde”: When I first heard James Blake’s debut record, I thought “what is all the fuss?”  After giving it an additional listen and hearing his beautiful intimate and shiver inducing live set at Pitchfork in 2011, I not only understood the fanfare but became a pseudo proselytizer myself.  Blake’s music was a revelation calling to mind Portishead‘s Dummy — a record that helped popularize and educate us cross-Atlantic novices on English Trip-Hop, Downtempo and Ambient music (it was our gateway).  Traversing the realm of intricate, tightly packed downtempo contemplative sounds with a soulful flair, Blake continues that tradition but breaks down the form with even more intricacy and moves between deep crooning to choir-boy falsetto; it has a bone-chilling effect on record just as in performance.  “Retrograde” the newest single is no stranger to what came before but moves closer to a more recognizable deep, sultry R&B, playing and toying with the orchestration.  At times, Blake’s voice is the charm that brings the music to life, the instruments try to keep pace with the odd and unanticipated tempo changes, but then concede and flow into their own curious adventures.  As with any dub-step track, wait for the drop and relish in the release.  Only two months until Overgrown is released.  I’ll be counting down.  Hopefully you will be too.

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