Review Summary: Cold yet comforting, familiar yet new, airy yet heavy, undoubtedly beautiful and stunning.
I'm just getting this out of the way right up front: James Blake. Mentioning Blake while reviewing this album is pretty much unavoidable. Especially when comparing the two artists' career trajectory. Psychologist, much like Blake, started out releasing dubstep songs online. After taking some time to move his sound in a new direction, he released this EP. And it has a similar structure to Blake's self-titled album that released just a few months ago. But simply saying "this guy sounds like James Blake" would be missing the point entirely--not to mention unfair--because there's plenty going on here to separate the two artists.
Psychologist (actual name Iain Woods) got his start playing, of all things, churches. There isn't much background detail beyond that, but given the mournful quality of the songs on this EP, one can't help but feel he played a lot of funerals. But again, calling the music simply mournful would be short-sighted. There's a slightly uplifting quality to all of the tracks as well. Although that also can't help but bring to mind music from a funeral.
The album opener, "Together Clinging" starts with an almost spooky silence, with ethereal voices cutting through the silence like something from another world. This is broken up at a few points, once with a record scratch, and once with a muffled scream. You start to wonder where this could possibly be going. Suddenly, Woods voice comes in to soothe the tenseness that has been built. Other vocal tracks become layered over the voices still hovering in the background, before coming to a head and retreating back into silence, the conversation finishing the song. The next song, "Comes In Waves", is the most accessible song on the EP, as well as the strongest. Led by a magnificent piano melody, Woods shows off his vocal talent, putting it at the forefront of the song. Lyrically it's an interesting song as well, opening with the lines "I pour cold water on my teeth/And I drive down south into the sea/And I wait and pray and I will leave/Somewhere better when the waves wash over me". The song continues quietly until the midway point, when his dubstep past shows its face, leading the song to its church-choir like finish, singing the lyrics "Take me out of my depth, make me tread water/Get out of breath and ward off my death/By keeping abreast of all of those waves and all of that water". I challenge you to listen to it and not be moved by the time it finishes.
The EP is broken up by an untitled song, which isn't much of a song at all as much as it is a haunting layering of vocals. It could have been cut, sure, but it provides a nice Side A/Side B quality to the EP. It also snaps you out of the comforting tone of the song prior. The album finishes with "Look After" and "Song To The Siren", the former of which combines the ethereal voices of the opener, and the piano-driven quality of "Comes In Waves". The closer is where the similarity to Blake's self-titled becomes almost uncanny, at least in the terms of song structure and the fact it closes the album. It's almost absent of instrumentation, featuring only Woods' vocals, before fading into a glitchy abyss. Fans of Blake will find a lot to love here. But again, there's plenty here to differentiate the two. Blake is the closest in sound (as well as back story), but Psychologist has shown enough growth of his own since his early output to make his eventual full-length something to keep an eye on. And enough to make simply comparing him to Blake take away from what makes him special in his own right.