Review Summary: Still neither here nor there, James Blake is in his element -- on his own
If the title Enough Thunder
is anything to go by, one could assume that leftfield dubstep artist James Blake has perhaps decided to move even further away from the bass triumphs that remain the focal point for the genre that he's humbly choosing to distance himself from. Or that perhaps maybe he's chosen to replace his outward crying with something a bit more inward, as if his previous lamentations have since shaped and molded him into someone a little more introspective and wary about being so open with his emotions. That the quiet yet raging storm that always threatened to swell up and engulf him has perhaps been quenched or maybe even smothered, his emotional maelstrom now bottled up. But truthfully, he's still the same yearning young man that he was when he released his debut album earlier in the year, but that shuffling nervousness that made it seem as if everything he wrote was on some kind of shaky ground has been rendered somewhat inert, as a much more comfortable Blake has now emerged. His lessons have all been learnt, and instead of discovering he's now eager to talk about all that he has discovered and uncovered in the last several months. He's still floating away, but now we get the sense that whatever tied him down was severed by his own hand.
picks up right where James Blake
left off; he's still using silence as a weapon, filling the empty holes with a kind of palpable suspense, and he's still blurring the line between what dubstep was once known as and what it ultimately is becoming. He still sounds like the traveling man sleeping on whatever floorboards and couches are offered to him, merely swapping a guitar case that's perhaps seen better days for a piano. Aside from the emotional catharsis that he seems to have reached the only marked difference here is his use of electronics, now relegated to a supporting role instead of acting like a crutch. His processed beats now take their time to emerge, breaking through the fragile shell and gently testing the turbulent waters that Blake drops them in. Before they were a constant, a starting point for James to map out his path, here they buffer against his singer-songwriter pedestal; sometimes violently like the dusty bass rumbles that briefly illuminate 'Once We All Agree', other times simply providing a negative to Blake's positive, like on 'We Might Feel Unsound' where they lazily skip out of time before self-destructing in a fit of paranoia.
But it's the moments where he masks his ticking-clock like electronics with his now commonplace vocal tendencies that he truly shines, such is the sincerity in his voice that getting by on that alone becomes the simplest yet most rewarding of challenges. The collaboration with Bon Iver on 'Fall Creek Boys Choir' remains a high point not simply because of the added weight bought in by Vernon's presence, but how Blake manages to translate the intimacy to something on a much grander scale. He actually relegates the more bass-appropriate tracks to the first half of the ep, choosing to leave the remainder as a soothing comedown of sorts, a cradling descent from the twitchy madness he applies so explicitly at the onset. His cover of Joni's Mitchell's 'A Case Of You' is sparse and dimly lit, perhaps even more knocked down and defeated than when Mitchell herself let it loose. But it's the title track, fittingly served up as the finale that perhaps best sums up Blake as the songwriter he has become, with his minimalist gospel flair and a halo of cigarette smoke surrounding him, creating crescendos out of thin air.
Still neither here nor there, James Blake is in his element -- on his own, with nothing but his thoughts to comfort him. And yet for all the somber narratives and the isolating fear that seems intent on burrowing its way into the young artist he manages to provide a sense of hope, like the last flickering candle in a night full of worry. He's still the same world weary artist who took the internet by storm less than a year ago, just now he's become accustomed to the loneliness. And to be honest it serves him well.