The dubstep dreamer gets ready to rumble on his brand new EP, but fails to whip up a storm
It’s widely accepted that James Blake’s debut album didn’t meet expectations, with its diversion into vocal-driven pop feeling like a step backward from the psychedelic bass-driven intensity of his earlier EPs. Though decent in parts, the album was patchy and unfocused, and its unrelentingly mournful tone lent itself perfectly to a touch of gentle mockery (‘blubstep’, anyone?).
Rather than a return to the caustic experimentation of his FWD>> days, Blake’s new EP picks up exactly where his album left off, though with one profound difference. While people were quick to trumpet his debut’s association with dubstep, ‘Enough Thunder’ leaves its influence behind entirely. It’s not ‘blubstep’, it’s mostly just ‘blub’.
You may have heard the Bon Iver collaboration ‘Fall Creek Boys Choir’, which decimates Justin Vernon’s voice with Auto-Tune. Rather than adding gravitas, it’s closer to YouTube’s infamous Auto-Tuned baby – histrionic and unintentionally pretty hilarious. The title track drags itself along limply for a full four minutes. Neither has anything on the understated loveliness of last year’s ‘Klavierwerke’ EP. Nor does his curiously detached take on Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’, which lacks the alien grandeur of his ‘Limit To Your Love’ cover.
The EP’s first two tracks are far better. Appropriately given his skill at slicing and recontextualising his own and others’ voices, Blake’s approach to songwriting works best when he wields it like a sampler. ‘Once We All Agree’ is cloaked in muted trumpet and ‘We Might Feel Unsound’ is beautiful. Both feel closer in spirit to his ‘Pan’ 12-inch, whose grainy cityscapes offered tantalising glimpses of where his music might head in future.
On the whole though, ‘Enough Thunder’ suffers from the same problem as Blake’s album. His considerable production chops can’t disguise that his songwriting too often feels half-formed. It’s hard not to suspect that his finest work still lies ahead of him.