James Blake cut his teeth as a dubstep producer, but on his Mercury-approved debut album he sounds far more like a singer-songwriter with a radically-stripped-down approach. For all his love of strange, slippery sonics and deep bass shudders, Blake has essentially built his album on the back of a soulful croon and rich piano chords. He's been compared to Ray Charles, but that's comically off the mark. Blake's, aesthetically, still an electronic producer; having an almost ascetic devotion to keeping unnecessary clutter out of his compositions. Though built on piano and vocal, the defining element of James Blake may be space; even his most friendly, pop-like tunes gently flecking the edges of great swathes of silence. It's a brilliantly produced, played, and conceived LP; the most dynamic debut disc of the year.
Two decades after her classic '92 debut Dry, PJ Harvey shows no signs of slowing, mellowing, or growing complacent; she is, as ever, a fierce, fearless, committed artist. Her eighth album, Let England Shake, is, musically, one of her oddest: elusive moods of autoharp, analogue organs, and bass harmonica that manage to sound both brittle and brutal at once. Pushing her singing voice into all manner of new shapes, Polly Jean stages a singular lyrical study: the thematically-taught LP exploring folksong and its entwined relationship with English history. Harvey returns, as aural storytelling traditions have always, to wars; from far-gone crusades to the Great War to the Iraq invasion. Her homeland's history, Harvey knows, is one sown in blood.