On the turntable for review this week is an album I used to listen to religiously – James Blake’s Overgrown. I know his first album garnered a lot of attention, but I am a hardcore believer that Overgrown is his best, by far.
Why, you may ask? Well you just had to, didn’t you. I can’t give a better reason other than it resonates with me better. Tempo, melody, lyrics, bass line… the whole kit and caboodle.
Okay, let’s get on with it.
The system used for today’s session is a bit different than normal. I will talk more about them in a later post, but I picked up a pair of Rega RS7’s that now reside in my living rooms. Yes, they aren’t as good as some newer speakers, but I got them for a steal and there’s something very special about their presentation.
On the amplification side, I’m using my beloved Luxman SQ-N150 Integrated. While this was sitting in my desktop system for the better part of a year, it felt time to bring it out into the living room and the pairing with the Regas just seemed right.
The Luxman puts out a cool 10 watts into 6 ohms – pretty standard for ultralinear EL84’s running in a push-pull configuration. Also keep in mind that tube amplification, wattage doesn’t increase/decrease the same when compared to solid state.
Further upstream is my trusted Rega RP10 turntable and Aria Mk1 phono stage. Someday I’ll have Rega’s Aura phonostage…. someday. Maybe they’ll send me one or perhaps I’ll find one on the used market at a good price.
Music, Music, Music
I think great care was done when mastering this for vinyl to ensure the bass lines still came through cleanly. Maybe it’s just my personal experience, but it’s far too easy for that depth to get lost in a pressing due to the space requirements of the groove.
Listening to James himself, his voice is just as mysterious as the last time I remember listening to this album. The title track which is also the opener never fails to set the mood for the rest of the album and give us a hint at how well the rest of the album is as far as mastering is concerned. James’ vocals are spot on in the center and never sound out of place.
I Am Sold is next. First off, I love the piano. I think it’s a great accompaniment and one that you don’t hear too often in this style of music. I only wish it was used throughout the entire track. That said, the symbols and bass carry the melody well. When so much emphasis is put in the drums (and in particular the symbols), I’m sometimes worried that it will overpower the vocals. That isn’t the case here – I never once got that sense of fatigue.
Life Round Here starts out nicely. Closing my eyes, I definitely get the sense that there’s a performance right in front of me. You know what spooked me out though? The slightly off-key vocals from left and right. I think this is where the album really begins to hit its stride.
I had to listen to this album three times to complete the rest of my notes. I found myself too often just closing my eyes and forgetting what I was “supposed” to be doing. But looking through another lens, that’s exactly what this hobby is about.
The theme I’m going to continue coming back to though is that the bass impact, while enough, doesn’t compare to the digital version for me. Could I add a sub? Yea, probably. But I most of the time I don’t feel that it’s necessary.
Take A Fall For Me. When I first heard this track, it wasn’t my favorite. I think the rather high melody/beat playing in the background would get to me and bring me some fatigue eventually. Years later, while that isn’t necessarily untrue, the track has definitely become one of my favorites on the album.
RZA does a great job and his vocals definitely fit well within the analog format.
And then that leads to Retrograde which is probably the most well known track on the album. For good reason too. It begs to be turned up. This track in particular is a favorite to close my eyes to and just listen.It’s a master-class in aural enjoyment.
Digital Lion is a track that will test the lower registers of your system with great efficiency. What seems like sixteenth notes rapidly playing will tell you how resolving your system is. To be honest, that’s the main reason I like this track. It’s good played on the whole album, but I don’t know that I’d listen to it otherwise.
The Album In Review
Okay, so maybe when I said “best album”, I’m mainly speaking of the middle half of the album. In the grand scheme of things though when comparing against other albums, that’s pretty good!
I think James’ vocals are wonderful throughout the entire album and the sense of space that he delivers with the addition of the melody and bass line are simply splendid. It’s definitely an album that will test the resolving power of your system (if that’s something you’re into), but is also an album that can be enjoyed by those who pick components based on their preferences and not purely measurements.
About the Beer
I’ll be straight with you, this is a mouthful.
Southern Prohibition Brewing Crowd Control Imperial IPA. Can I just call it SPBCCIIPA for short? No, that isn’t much better I guess. So, how does it taste?
Hoppy, but still refreshing. Though I’m not sure I would say this could be a regular for me as it’s not (as balanced as I tend to prefer), I still think it isn’t too far off and that it would be a great summer beverage.
Overall, I give it a 3.5/5. To me, that means that I enjoy having it, but it still isn’t one that I would actively seek out.
Anyways, until next time. Cheers!