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James Blake (#110 of 6)

Listen to Slant’s 25 Best Singles of 2016

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Listen to Slant’s 25 Best Singles of 2016
Listen to Slant’s 25 Best Singles of 2016

So many of the highlights and lowlights of the year in singles were, for better or worse, attuned to what feels like a worldwide drift toward maintaining one’s own financial and psychological (same diff) bottom line at the expense of anyone else’s. Beyoncé, of all performers, was far from immune, though her particular brand of exceptionalism continues to dress itself up in the finery of collective consciousness raising. Far more common were the unfussy, ruthlessly entertaining likes of Fifth Harmony speaking on behalf of Melania Trumps everywhere. Or Kanye West’s epic clapback against Taylor Swift, which in turn presaged his detour into the mental hospital, which we’ve now seen firsthand more or less counts as the first step in a presidential bid in 2020.

Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Best New Artist

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Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Best New Artist
Grammy 2014 Winner Predictions: Best New Artist

Few Grammy categories are as easily derided as Best New Artist, which with each passing year continues to push the word “new” to the absolute limits of its meaning. Three of this year’s nominees released widely praised albums in 2011, while the other two, co-favorites Kacey Musgraves and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, have been actively recording for more than a decade. And yet there’s something noble, and perhaps even worthwhile, in attempting to bring artists as diverse as these five under a single cultural umbrella, however flawed the process might be.

House Playlist: Sleigh Bells, Ifan Dafydd, & Julia Holter

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<em>House</em> Playlist: Sleigh Bells, Ifan Dafydd, & Julia Holter
<em>House</em> Playlist: Sleigh Bells, Ifan Dafydd, & Julia Holter

Sleigh Bells, “Born to Lose.” The trailer for Sleigh Bells’ sophomore album, Reign of Terror, shows singer Alexis Krauss primping in front of a mirror while rocking a severe haircut and a military jacket. “Born to Lose” is animated by the same martial pulse, with Krauss singing over pummeling blastbeats and lurching power chords. The track is only differentiated from the duo’s established sound by its far slicker production: Treats’s everything-in-the-red approach was integral to its charm, adding to the impression that Sleigh Bells were a couple of kids fighting over scraps in the pop-music junkyard, but the sound here skews distinctly toward polished mall-metal a la Victory Records. Derek Miller’s alien guitar coda, which sounds like a huge machine powering down, shows that the group’s soundsmith still has an innovator’s mind, but it will be equally important that he hold on to his underdog’s heart. Matthew Cole

House Playlist: DELS, Kasabian, and James Drake

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<em>House</em> Playlist: DELS, Kasabian, and James Drake
<em>House</em> Playlist: DELS, Kasabian, and James Drake

DELS featuring Joe Goddard and Roots Manuva, “Capsize.” If only this track was indicative of U.K. hip-hop at large, because there hasn’t been anything this exciting or engaging from one of her majesty’s MCs since Roots Manuva dropped Awfully Deep. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that, like Roots Manuva, the fact that DELS doesn’t come from London has a part to play in this: The grating and nauseating hollers of “blood,” “son,” and “rude boy” from the capitol’s rappers have become so ubiquitous that I had all but given up on British urban music, but DELS has enough talent—both on the microphone and with regard to selecting his collaborators and producers—to suggest there’s still hope. “Capsize” is the premier cut from his excellent GOB LP, tackling pertinent subject matter with adroit wordplay and a flow that’s simultaneously languid and forceful. Huw Jones

House Playlist James Blake, Gruff Rhys, & Ryat

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James Blake, “Love What Happened Here.” James Blake’s well-received debut foregrounds silence and process, repetition and accumulation, but “Love What Happened Here,” a non-album cut that premiered on British radio last week, proves that the 22-year-old likes making twitching club tracks just as much as headphone masterpieces. After opening with stabs of brassy synths, “Love What Happened Here” brims over with fidgety, pitch-shifted vocal chirps that culminate in a ringing organ sample that Blake jubilantly cuts apart. The business here makes it a piece with his Bells Sketch EP, hinting that it may have been dusted off to satiate the growing demand for his music. Either way, it’s more evidence that everyone had best believe the hype.Ross Scarano