James Blake — Overgrown

ATLAS · A&M · Polydor | discogs.com
Get jiggy with this neo-noir dancefloor/lounge/club soundtrack.

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In my Superlative Albums I Wrote About in 2017 list, Overgrown was awarded the Cheap Plastic Set Square for Most Tangential Article
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Thick, black rain splatters across the windshield, through which distorted neon haloes shine garishly. The man peers up over the worn leather of the steering wheel, wary of decreased visibility. The midnight gloom is impenetrable, save for sleek shapes of deeper black thrusting high into the heavy, humid air. He knows well the endless skyscrapers of his city, even when their form is only suggested. His shallow breaths fog the windows, and he must remind himself that there is no hurry. He has parked discreetly. He has a flask of cheap whiskey and a case of expensive cigars. The man's thoughts drift to his payment, which he had been promised would greet him at the station shortly after the requirements had been fulfilled. He permits a crooked grin to split his unshaven face.

A merry chirp issues from the inner pocket of his coat. The man withdraws his phone, holding it out in front of him as one would a business card to a prospective client. He has always liked the idea of business cards — plastic of course; paper would be an obscene luxury nowadays — but his work is of too delicate a nature to warrant such advertisement.

The phone takes a moment too long to recognise his fingerprint. He frowns. His informant appears in miniature, cast in blue, crosscut with fuzzy horizontal bars of distortion. This deep in the city, especially at street level, reception was notoriously poor.

His informant speaks briefly, and hangs up a little too abruptly. The man, whom manners have makethed, casts this irksome detail from his mind, and refocuses on the task at hand. He restores his phone to its place inside his coat and steps out into the downpour. He hears several beats throbbing through the air at different tempos, numbering the same as the gaudy signs. A chilly gust ruffles his salt-and-pepper sideburns, extending from beneath the brim of a battered fedora. He angles his head against the heavy rain, and steps toward the dazzling pink sign reflected in the slick of the pavement. He takes a moment to admire the great pillars of darkness sinking impossibly deep into the night's abyss below.

The man pushes through the throngs crowding the entrance to the club. The harsh pink light casts unflattering shadows across featureless faces. He thinks of a device that attracts insects, drawing them in, only to fry them to a crisp. He thinks of a fish that captivates the unsuspecting with its soothing glow, only to gobble them up. These people are nobody. They do not matter. And even if they did, they deserve what was coming to them. He does not spare them another thought.

The man hears a sound. It is a strange sound, and takes a moment to process. Unapproved music had long been outlawed, of course, but so had the man's profession. There is a voice, and it is singing. The freezing wind had given way to a gentle breeze, cracking and sighing with emotion.

Despite the chill, a warmth spreads through the man's body.

The single beat from the pink club now drowns out the others. It is different to those the man has heard before. How to put it — somehow suppler? And there is a piano too, an instrument he recalls from those old-fashioned films, pressing a series of chords under that delicate voice. They feel casual, improvised perhaps, and yet manage to exactly mirror the tone of that singing: uncertain, hesitant, speculative, but neither overbearing nor self-pitying. And still driven forth by these incessant beats. The man wonders whose magnetic confidence radiates from deep within the club.

He descends into the belly of the beast.