PlayNetwork Plays It’s Favorites (of 2011)

Another year of great music, and  most of us have only scratched the surface, exposed to radio favorites or a few buzz-worthy notables in-between. But beyond that, a sea of music exists that most of us have not been exposed to.

And then there those like members of our Music Services team who eat, drink, sleep, and live music: over morning coffee, in the car, at work, in meetings (wait, in meetings?!), back home again, out on the town, and falling asleep. Rinse, repeat, another morning of coffee and music.

Every year, our passionate and talented music supervisors listen to and catalog, both mentally and literally, thousands of songs and artists while they craft the sound of a brand. So to send off 2011, we’ll share some of our favorites from this past year. Look for several posts over these last two weeks as members of our Music Services team share some of their favorites.  We hope you enjoy!

First up, an in-depth look by Director, Music and Messaging Services Sean Horton at his pick for best album of 2011: James Blake’s self-titled release.

My Top Album of 2011 by Sean Horton

James Blake : S/T on Universal, Polydor

One of this year’s most intriguing developments was the emergence of UK heartthrob James Blake (, who’s self-titled debut full length was quickly snatched up by major label Universal. After witnessing Blake perform the material live at SXSW this past March (see it here), it was evident that this new comer is not only an innovative producer, but a charismatic performer.

The 22 year old producer/singer first gained popularity in 2010 through a series of bass-heavy instrumental EPs released on the underground dance label R&S Records out of Belgium. These first releases were often labeled as “dubstep”, which was a UK born sub-genre that combined elements of dub, garage, 2-step and grime. Though some of the rhythmic elements remain consistent, these initial releases have little in common with his current work.

Like many electronic music producers, Blake wasn’t content with strictly being a producer and DJ. Through cultivating his vocal and keyboard talents, Blake soon began composing music that shared more in common with American R&B and soul than underground dance music. Instead of relying on computers and drum machines to compose and perform with, Blake assembled a trio, which includes drummer Ben Assiter and guitarist Rob McAndrews. The end product is a live take on electronic music that captures the best of both worlds.

One of Blake’s signature production techniques is the unconventional use of pitch-correction on his voice in real time. Though some of his vocals wind up sounding like T-Pain on acid, the sincerity of the lyrics and stark melancholy melodies give the music a very human feel, regardless of how alien the sounds themselves might be.

The most popular tracks from the self-titled album are “The Wilhelm Scream”…[youtube]

…and the gorgeous cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love”… [youtube]  …are also the most conventional. After exploring the album more thoroughly, I find it to be incredibly cohesive as a whole. I personally began to empathize with the young man’s existential struggles with love, family, isolation, depression and fear. I would go as far as to say that James Blake is one of the most honest singer-songwriters to come of the new millennium. The fact that Blake is just now finding his voice in his early twenties points to a bright future. His recent collaboration with the Wisconsin based indie-folk outfit Bon Iver further illustrates Blake’s depth, as he combines his experimental vocal techniques with a more traditional form of Americana. [youtube]

– Sean Horton  Director, Music and Messaging Services