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"Enough Thunder"

James Blake – Enough Thunder
20 October 2011, 08:58 Written by Chris Lo

After a trio of lauded EPs in 2010, this year’s Mercury-nominated debut full-length and now the Enough Thunder EP, it’s clear that post-dubstep wunderkind James Blake might spend more time in recording studios than is strictly healthy. His social life’s loss is our gain, however. Throughout Blake’s speedily accumulated body of work we’ve seen him morph from restrained basshead to something approaching a 21st century digital chanteur. The chopped-up samples and insistent rhythms of his early EPs have been subtly dialled back in favour of spacious, languid soundscapes and an ever-greater reliance on Blake’s studied vocals. Nevertheless, a certain subterranean quality runs through all of his releases; the eerie poetry of the top deck on the night bus. So much dance music aims to soundtrack the high times, but Blake has always resolutely focussed on the bleary-eyed soul-searching that inevitably follows.

Enough Thunder is a continuation of Blake’s retreat from anything that might remotely be considered bombast. So much so, in fact, that the EP feels like a heightened extension of this year’s self-titled record – the beats are quieter, the arrangements more restrained. In one sense this is nothing to complain about, as it yields yet another crop of quietly compelling tracks. Opener ‘Once We All Agree’ mixes dolorous piano with echoing whoops to create a strange, spectral whalesong. Blake’s use of simple, unreconstructed piano continues on ‘We Might Feel Unsound’, where an uncharacteristically major-key melody is counterbalanced by an unsettling squall of synth. But the clearest indication of Blake’s growing fascination with the piano is on Joni Mitchell cover ‘A Case Of You’, which replaces its creator’s textured guitar with piano lines so smooth and orthodox they wouldn’t be out of place heard drifting from a gleaming hotel bar.

But while this set’s resemblance to the atmosphere of Blake’s full-length debut makes it a safe pair of hands when it comes to delivering solid material, there’s an undeniable sense of treading water here, especially for an artist so dedicated to bounding into new realms with every release. The simplicity of his Joni Mitchell cover makes it seem downright conservative next to the rippling bass on his interpretation of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’. Even on ‘Fall Creek Boys Choir’, the Bon Iver collaboration that had indie kids foaming at their computer screens when it was announced, feels limited by sounding exactly like you’d expect that partnership would. It might sound strange coming from a dedicated James Blake fan, but many of the tracks on Enough Thunder just sound a little too, well, James Blakey for their own good.

Still, it’s an enticing if unremarkable release that should satiate the obsessives until Blake’s next grand adventure comes to light. There’s certainly enough depth here to obsess over, the hypnotic bass breakdown halfway through ‘Not Long Now’ being a particularly good example. It’s just that it feels like a small step next to the artistic leaps of his previous output. Then again, after the journey he’s taken in the last two years, we can all agree that if anyone deserves a bit of a breather, it’s James Blake.

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