James Blake’s voice showed up in his early electronic music as an apparition but it’s now at the forefront, particularly on his new album, “The Colour in Anything.” Blake performs at the Moore Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
Even if you’ve never heard of James Blake, who plays the Moore Theatre on Wednesday (Oct. 12), he’s well within the orbit of some of pop music’s most important acts.
Kanye West once called the British singer, keyboardist and producer his “favorite artist.” He sings on Beyoncé’s most recent record. He collaborated with Drake, and then refused to let him release the track he appeared on. Frank Ocean is featured in a behind-the-scenes writing role on Blake’s latest album.
Such brushes with some of music’s biggest celebrities seem unthinkable based on Blake’s early tracks. His first singles and EPs in 2010 were hits only with electronic music’s tastemakers. They drew from minimal techno, dubstep and ambient music, but negative space and ghostly wisps of Blake’s voice — sampled, stretched, pitched-shifted — define them better than such formal descriptions.
James Blake, Moses Sumney
8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Moore Theatre, 1931 Second Ave., Seattle; $32.50-$34 (206-467-5510 or stgpresents.org).
It’s somewhat fitting that Blake’s singing voice first showed up as an apparition, because it’s gradually moved to the forefront of his work. Emotive, mellifluous and seemingly effortless, his tenor is the sort of voice few electronic producers (or, for that matter, few musicians) are graced with.
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His voice has also grown clearer and more self-assured over the years, coming closer to the unadorned sound of his live performances. (Unlike most electronic musicians, Blake performs in a band, without a computer.) Bon Iver, a friend and frequent collaborator, shows up on the duet and latest single “We Need a Forest Fire.” Even while harmonizing with such a forceful vocalist, Blake’s singing projects more confidence than ever.
Compared to his early music, Blake’s third and most recent album “The Colour in Anything” is practically a singer-songwriter record. Though Blake’s signature production flourishes remain, its sound is more influenced by soul or gospel than outré electronic music. As if to underscore this shift, the first lyrics on the album are lifted from a Bill Withers song.
Blake has a long history of such musical borrowing. One of his first tracks to cross over from the electronic music world was a cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.” Another was a sort of postmodern re-imagining of a song recorded by his father.
As with so much modern electronic music, there are plenty of superficial similarities to rap production in Blake’s work — foundation-shaking sub-bass and skittering hi-hats, to name two — but his willingness to recontextualize and reappropriate the sounds of others gets closer than most to what hip-hop’s about. It’s maybe even why all those many famous rappers admire him so.