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James Blake

Enough Thunder EP

(Polydor; US: 10 Oct 2011; UK: 10 Oct 2011)

A bevy of critics over the last year have pointed out that James Blake’s, “...ability to write songs isn’t as fully formed as is his compositional ability.” His new EP Enough Thunder is an encouraging response to this sentiment from an artist who is willing to take risks, expanding towards these weaknesses, while still playing to his strengths. Enough Thunder consists of four originals, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”,  and a collaboration with Bon Iver on “Fall Creek Boys Choir”. Blake provides the instrumentation, vocals, production, and writing of the four original tracks.


As expected, these tunes have the intentionality and emotional nuance that Blake’s compositions are know for. Only this time out, his bare-bones approach is an attempt to connect with the singer-songwriter tradition that until now has been overshadowed by his emphasis on mood and form. The appearance of Bon Iver on “Fall Creek Boys Choir” is significant because both of them are masters at creating the atmosphere and space that move their songs forward. This collaboration sounds exactly like we would expect, with a vocoder and a snare sound right out of the 1980’s. But on the majority of Enough Thunder, James Blake’s effects-free vocals have been brought to the forefront and are accompanied by sparse instrumentation. For example, his cover of the Joni Mitchell classic “A Case of You” is refreshing because it spotlights the simplicity of the song’s beautiful lyricism. His voice warbles somewhere between Antony and the Johnsons and Aaron Neville territory. The vocal phrasings are intriguing even when he is adding effects, providing appropriate tension and release within the context of the song structures. 


Enough Thunder gives inklings that James Blake may refocus as a singer-songwriter next time around. A statement against getting pigeon-holed as as dubstep pretty boy. But never fear, the dubstep trademarks are still an integral part of Enough Thunder. The undergirding bass staccato in “We Might Feel Unsound” provides evidence of this.  But his slight reactions against the dubstep zeitgeist may be an attempt to associate himself with a deeper tradition. It is no coincidence that the standout tracks on his last two releases, “A Case of You” and “Limit to Your Love”, are both covers. He is coming into his own, but has yet to prove his singer-songwriter credibility. Enough Thunder evokes moods that are memorable. For the most part, the melodies are not. Still, these songs linger. The nose is good, even if the tannins are not as well developed.


Given the success of his self-titled debut, it is tempting to expect too much from a release like this. But Enough Thunder  is an encouraging sign that James Blake is wide open to further artistic development. He is not always playing to his strengths on this EP, but one gets the sense that he is searching for other strengths to develop. He is willing to attempt a stronger relationship between his skills as an electronic artist and his desire to craft even better songs, lyrically and otherwise. His buzz-worthy success is easily attributed to his ability to manipulate sounds and effectively use silence. Enough Thunder is an attempt to balance these strengths with developed lyrics and and bare-bones song structures. We should wish him well and look forward to listening to James Blake mature. Enough Thunder could be the link between the kind of artist that will pass as a mere fashion trend, or weld the form and content of his art into something with staying power . Though not a stand-out EP, James Blake is to be commended for attempting the path of the latter.

Rating:

Philip Majorins is a church musician who lives in Northern California with his talented wife and four children.


Media
James Blake - Enough Thunder (Live on KCRW)
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