James Blake has had quite the year. After being continuously hyped up in the underground electronic scene through a couple of EPs, he finally released a full-length. His debut was particularly well received and he made the jump into the mainstream in his native England. Not too long after the release of James Blake it was announced that he would be collaborating with none other than Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon (who happened to be the big indie success story of the year, this side of the pond). After much speculation it was revealed that the project would be only for one song, and that it would be the lead single off Blake’s upcoming EP Enough Thunder. Those who wanted to see more of the duo were left somewhat disappointed, but in the end there was no reason to complain. Now Blake has released his latest EP, which comes as a great way to continue the celebration of a fantastic year.
It’s pretty clear that James Blake has opted to follow his soul influences in this EP. The majority of it consists of ballads that focus on Blake’s lonely voice. The only things that thoroughly accompany his voice in “Once We All Agree” are his piano chords and the ominous hoot of an owl. The record’s atmosphere is clearly a very dark and cold one, with Blake’s voice being the only living thing in this wintery landscape.
In “We Might Feel Unsound” Blake shows off his more minimalist electronic work. His voice becomes much more contained as it turns to a whisper. Ambient loops continue to plague the track, however they slowly begin to speed up, creating a sense of urgency.
Following is the hyped up collaboration between Blake and Vernon, “Fall Creek Boys Choir.” It’s an ideal combination between Vernon’s heartwrenching voice and Blake’s minimalist piano. The feeling of loneliness is even greater as Vernon is simply accompanied by different versions of his own voice and the haunting owl hoot.
The last couple of tracks seem to be a bit more straightforward. Both “A Case of You” and “Enough Thunder” are straight and to-the-point piano ballads. The electronics are mostly absent from these songs, letting Blake’s voice shine brighter than in any of the other tracks.
For those who have been keeping up with James Blake’s music, the transition from bedroom producer to artsy pianist should come as no surprise. Blake has been openly disapproving of the current state of electronic music, so the next logical step would be to disassociate oneself completely from the scene. With the pipes the British singer possesses, his role as a vocalist is a pleasing one. However, those looking for the sound he had in his past EPs will be disappointed as he has once again strayed further from it.