By Glenn Gamboa
Bottom Line: What happens when the emotional electro-pop king gets boo’d up? Magic.
James Blake’s first three albums combined raw, emotional lyrics with spare, electronic backdrops to create a new hybrid of EDM that also influenced hip-hop and indie rock.
On his new Assume Form (Republic) album, Blake takes everything he has learned over the years, including from high-profile collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, and applies it to a variety of love songs. The topic seems timely considering his relationship with The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil, but his approach isn’t all warm and fuzzy.
Though the thumping collaborations – Mile High with Travis Scott and Metro Boomin and Tell Them with Moses Sumney and Metro Boomin – will likely get the most attention, Blake is best when he is at his simplest.
And the gorgeous, deceptively simple ballad I’ll Come To is stunningly powerful, as Blake captures that feeling of falling in love with someone who’s already taken, cutting the sweetness of soaring strings with the jittering percussion of reality. It’s an early candidate for song of the year, and when combined with his advice for those dealing with suicidal thoughts in Power On and Don’t Miss It, Assume Form sets a high artistic bar for 2019.
Heard It in a Past Life
Bottom Line: A sparkling debut combining her folk roots and newfound love of dance music
Maggie Rogers has been a phenomenon inside the music industry for years, even before the 24-year-old graduated from NYU.
She was in a master class there in 2016 when Pharrell Williams was stunned by her song Alaska and her explanation of her sound – a combination of her folk music background and a newfound love of dance music. The video of that meeting went viral and the song sparked a bidding war to sign her. Rogers settled on Capitol Records, but only after they agreed to let her keep the rights to her master recordings – a deal that is almost unheard of for a new artist. That was followed by Rogers’ unusual appearance on Saturday Night Live just as her debut single was released.
Now that her debut album, Heard It in a Past Life, (Debay Sounds/Capitol) has arrived, the rest of the world can finally catch up with what the music industry has known: Maggie Rogers is going to be a star.
Her single Light On, which combines her sweet voice, a catchy chorus and some swirling synths, has already hit No. 1 on the alternative charts. And Past Life channels more than a little Stevie Nicks and Sarah McLachlan.
But Rogers’ work gets stronger with each risk she takes. You can almost hear Overnight as a folk song, but the pounding beat and glitchy samples and choral snippets turn it into something all her own. On + Off takes a choppy EDM anthem and warms it up with stacks of her vocals and unexpected rhythmic surprises. And the simplicity of Alaska is even more charming than the version she played for Pharrell at NYU, with its breathy vocals and bouncy groove.
With Heard It in a Past Life, Rogers delivers the rare debut that is also a fully realised artistic vision. – Newsday/TNS
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