A New Direction For Blake

James Blake

"Retrograde" (4:02)

PRODUCER: James Blake

WRITER: James Blake

PUBLISHER: Universal Music Publishing Group

LABEL: Republic Records

Two years ago, this bookish Brit released his self-titled debut, an electro-soul breakout laced with icy vocoders and piano-side crooning. Critics went bonkers for its fractured laptop beauty, but "James Blake" still felt like a tentative toe-dip into the artist's pool of talent. "Retrograde" is a forceful statement of purpose, emphasizing Blake's chops as a producer, songwriter and vocalist. The producer is utilizing his standard sonic template--fizzing synths, digital percussion, layered vocalizations--but where his early material was often static and atmospheric, "Retrograde" crackles with tension, building those familiar elements into something more visceral and grand. Instead of simply hinting at legitimate soul music, Blake now immerses himself in it: He doles out trembled vocal runs with ease, blooming wordless hues into massive rainbows of harmony. "We're alone now," he croons, over and over, as spooky synths buzz beneath. Ironically, he's never sounded less alone.